Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

aeronauts windlass by jim butcherFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: steampunk, fantasy
Series: Cinder Spires #1
Length: 640 pages
Publisher: Roc
Date Released: September 29, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

My Review:

I read this during WorldCon. I wanted something big that I could really sink my teeth into, and I’ll admit that I also picked a big book because I didn’t want to read a lot of short books and not have time to do the brain dump of the reviews.

Fortunately for me, The Aeronaut’s Windlass was an excellent choice. Unfortunately for me, it was so excellent that I found myself reading it during some of the panels at the con, or sitting in the hallway just reading.

On the other hand, I was able to give it an in-person enthusiastic “thumbs up” during the Ace/Roc showcase. I’d just finished it a half hour before the panel started.

About the book…this is definitely Jim Butcher writes steampunk. So it reminds me a little bit of his Dresden Files, and an awful lot of his Codex Alera. He’s taken the steampunk and put his own snarky twist on it.

One of the refreshing things is that this is not first person singular point-of-view. We are not stuck in anyone’s head. And, in a delightful twist, this story is every bit as much a heroine’s journey as it is a hero’s journey. Possibly even more so.

While the character profiled in the blurb is Captain Grimm, and he is an important perspective, he’s not the only perspective. After finishing this book, it feels as if the main protagonists are not just Grimm, but equally the Guard cadets Gwen Lancaster and Bridget Tagwynn, Guard Lieutenant Benedict Sorellin-Lancaster, and the young female Etherialist Apprentice (read mage) Folly. And especially Rowl of the Nine Claws, who is the heir to a great cat clan, and Bridget’s best friend and protector.

So we have a group of young people, including Rowl, who is very definitely people. It’s pretty clear that this is going to be their collective coming of age story. Grimm is the one relatively mature main character, and he appears to be somewhere in his 30s.

The setting is fascinating. We don’t know exactly how this situation came about, but everyone lives in extremely tall spires that poke up out of the mist that enshrouds whatever planet this might be. It could be Earth. It could also be a lost colony. While they use airships to travel between the spires, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that there is travel to other worlds.

The surface isn’t uninhabitable per se, but it is inhabited by lots and LOTS of monsters. Who all seem to be cousins of Shelob or the great Ungoliant. Giant, predatory spiders. (Ewwww)

The story in The Aeronaut’s Windlass is the beginning of a war. The author uses the perspectives of these characters to show them switching from whatever they were in peace to growing, changing and adapting to survive. They also band together, sometimes in spite of themselves.

What is not as clear are the reasons for the war. Spire Albion (our heroes) has generally operated as a benevolent monarchy. I think the structure is somewhat like the constitutional monarchy of England, but it is hard to tell. What is certain is that the Squirearch is more powerful and functional, and less ostentatious and pompous, than what we see of the British Royal Family in public. In extremis, the Squirearch can still get things done.

Spire Aurora is employing evil magicians. We know that. There is some explanation that Aurora is a bit like the old Roman Empire – its economy is based on continually gobbling up new territory, and goes into recession when they completely digest whoever they’ve most recently conquered. It also reminds me a bit of the Republic of Haven in the Honorverse.

Of course, the good guys, the Albions, base their economy on their people working for themselves and making things. And those people get to keep and profit from the fruits of their labors. Kind of an idealized middle class, but with nobles on top.

So the story is about the war. It starts with a brutal and cowardly attack on Albion by the Aurorans, and we’re off to the races. At the end of this first book, all of our heroes have survived, but definitely not unscathed. We still don’t know the true nature of the conflict, only that it will be to the death.

In the last two lines of the book, Folly tells her mentor, “I’m frightened”. His response, “ So am I child, so am I.” And he’s right to be. There’s going to be a whole lot of dark between here and the end.

Escape Rating A-: While I occasionally felt like the story dragged a tiny bit, and I could see a whole lot of tropes coming from miles away, I still loved this story, and enjoyed the hell out of exploring this world, even as it (the world, not the book) falls apart.

This is going to be one of those stories where things are always darkest just before they turn completely black. And there will be one tiny light on the horizon that grows until we reach safe harbor in the end. But probably not all of us.

There were a lot of hints dropped about the past. Folly’s mentor, Ferus, clearly has some issues with the evil witch Sycorax. Grimm used to be married to the pirate captain who is helping the Albions. There’s a dark period in Grimm’s past that has depths yet to be plumbed. And the entire Albion economy has just been shot to hell. Literally.

At the same time, the main characters are a mixed bag who are still finding their way. It feels like Bridget, the reluctant guard, may be one of the primary foci. She’s the one who is changing most. On the other hand, Gwen Lancaster, who starts out as a disobedient and disrespectful noble child, has the most to learn about life in the real world. Gwen does not start as a likeable character, but she seems to be improving.

Grimm has all the makings of a dark and brooding hero, but he has touches of dry humor that make me laugh.

Then there’s Rowl. He feels like the voice of the author’s usual snark, but I could be wrong. Certainly Rowl is awesomely self-serving and incredibly snarky. He also, as cats do, retcons every situation to his best advantage, but always in retrospect. When Bridget tells him that he is insufferable, his response is “I am cat.” He is. He is very anthropomorphized and yet he retains what we think of as feline attitudes and feline perspectives. From his point of view, he is the leader and is always in charge. In the end, he may be right.

All in all, I was totally immersed in the world of The Aeronaut’s Windlass, and I can’t wait to return. Soon, please?

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

A Look Forward: My Most Anticipated Reads for 2014

2014 numbersWhat a difference a year makes!

It was surprisingly easy to pick the books for this list. I know exactly which books I’m dying for this year. Well, the first ten, anyway. I wasn’t planning on fourteen, but Cass jumped in and rounded out the list. (Thanks, Cass!)

Then I took a look back at last year’s list, and my eyes crossed a bit. There are two repeaters. I don’t mean series where the next book in the series is on the list, although that happens too, but two books that were delayed in publication. So I’ve waited a whole year longer than originally planned. (Not that I didn’t find plenty to read instead)

And a couple of things I thought I would read as soon as they came out, I didn’t. (Best laid plans, etc., etc.)

So here’s this year’s set of newly laid plans. Let’s see how it goes. Why do I hear a “bwahahaha”, coming from somewhere in the shadows?

skin game by jim butcherSkin Game by Jim Butcher is the 15th Harry Dresden book. I can’t believe the series has been going on that long. I fell in love with Harry because he started out as a hapless and frequently luckless wizard in my favorite former hometown, Chicago. But I still love his trademark snark, even as Harry has gone from being a two-bit wizard-for-hire to the Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness.

Damnation by Jean Johnson is the fourth book in her Theirs Not to Reason Why military science fiction series. I heard her read from Damnation at WorldCon in San Antonio, and I can’t believe I have to wait until August to finally get the next chapter in Ia’s story. There have been moments in this series that have sent chills down my spine. This entire series has been awesome.

guild by jean johnsonThe Guild, also by Jean Johnson, is the third book in her Guardians of Destiny fantasy romance series. Her military sf is kick ass, but I found her through her fantasy romance, and she’s utterly marvelous. The second book in this series, The Grove, was on my 2013 best list. She does fantasy romance where the fantasy worldbuilding is top notch and her heroines are always the absolute equals of her heroes. Her women have friends who talk to each other, and the plot of the fantasy is as important as the romantic happy ending. Her stories are always a treat!

Cast in Flame by Michelle Sagara is the tenth of the Chronicles of Elantra, and I can’t wait for Kaylin to get back to the city. She belongs there. Removing her from the city and the Courts for two books was interesting and told a lot about her friends among the Barrani, but took away from Kaylin as the center point. I want Kaylin back where she belongs!

silver mirrors by aa aguirreSilver Mirrors by A.A. Aguirre is the second book in their (A.A. Aguirre is the joint pseudonym of Ann and Andres Aguirre) Apparatus Infernum series. The first book, Bronze Gods, was one of my best of 2013. The world is just such an awesome mixture of steampunk and “magic goes away”, with an urban fantasy/detective duo that is something special.

Death Defying by Nina Croft has been the biggest tease for the end of December. It’s also the third book in her Blood Hunter series. I loved the first two books (Break Out and Deadly Pursuit) in that science fiction romance series so damn much that I gave Break Out an SFR Galaxy Award. I’ve been waiting since then. Death Defying almost made it into 2013, but not quite. What is so cool about the Blood Hunter series is that Croft figured out a plausible way for vampires and werewolves to make it into space. So along with a science that has granted immortality to a privileged few, there are vampires, who are also immortal. And it makes sense.

shield of winter by nalini singhShield of Winter by Nalini Singh is lucky 13 in her Psy-Changeling series. I still love this series, but it’s pretty obvious that the overall arc of the worldbuilding is drawing to a conclusion. The Silence Protocol will fall, the questions revolve around what is going to take its place; order or anarchy. I think I’ve become as or more fascinated with the big story than the individual romances. And I simply can’t express how grateful I am that the cover design has improved with Heart of Obsidian and Shield. The previous US covers were simply abominable.

Lock In by John Scalzi. Honestly, I wouldn’t care what the summary said on Goodreads. It’s by Scalzi, and I’m going to get the eARC from Edelweiss as soon as it pops up. But seriously, it sounds cool, but not one of his funny ones. This looks like one of his big idea books mixing virtual-reality, epidemiology and the misuse of power. Wow!

And now for those books that I hoped to see last year, but were delayed in publication…

written in my own hearts blood by diana gabaldonWritten in My Own Heart’s Blood is the eighth doorstop in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The Outlander series has been described, and it sounds about right to me, as “historical fiction with a Moebius twist”. The past and the future intertwine in a way that has to be read to be believed. Her 18th century is like you are there, and in a way you are, because you are experiencing it through the eyes of a 20th century woman who found the love of her life in 18th century Scotland. Outlander is the standard by which all other time travel historical fiction and romances are judged. I can’t wait to lose three days in the next one.

One-Eyed Jack by Elizabeth Bear is the continuation of her completely splendiferous Promethean Age series. They are portal fantasies, where Faerie exists next door to our world in a way that means events can, and do, affect both us and them, usually to the detriment of one or the other. And whoever scored last has a nasty tendency to strike back. The original cover sucked, and it went back for a better one. At least, that’s what the author said at WorldCon. (The first cover really, really does suck, we’ll have to see about the second one when it gets here. I just want the damn story)

Two books I should be anticipating but aren’t exactly…

Wicked After Midnight by Delilah S. DawsonWicked After Midnight by Delilah S. Dawson and Rex Regis by L.E. Modesitt Jr. These two books have nothing to do with each other, except that they are both January books, and I would normally be chomping at the proverbial bit to get at them. However, I have ARCs. I’ve already read Rex Regis, and can’t recommend it, and the entire Imager Portfolio series, highly enough to anyone who loves epic fantasy.

I started Delilah S. Dawson’s Blud series after I met her at Dragon*Con in 2012. The series is steampunk with a slightly creepy twist to it, but they are darkly enchanting and I scoop up each book as soon as they are available. I know Wicked After Midnight is going to be a treat.

And now for a few words from the Alaskan delegate. Here’s Cass!

tropic of serpents by marie brennanThe Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan! Clearly. I invented a new rating system for Book #1 Then I preordered Serpents 6 months before it’s release. I’ve NEVER preordered something so far in advance. I have no idea what edition it is (hardcover? paperback?), what the cover art looks like…nada. Doesn’t matter. Don’t care. WANT BOOK NOW.

Symbiont by Mira Grant. Argh! I have to see what is happening with the Tapeworm Uprising! And then find some anti-parasitcs to ingest, thus purging my body of our future Tapeworm Overlords.

 

Wyrd-Sisters by Terry Pratchett new coverThe Discworld Collector’s Library. Holy shit these covers are gorgeous. (http://www.gollancz.co.uk/2013/10/announcing-the-discworld-collectors-library/). I’ve read the covers off several of my favorite Terry Pratchett books, and I upgrades. Particularly the Death, Cultures of Discworld, and Witches Collections. I am only interested in certain Unseen University and City Watch books.

Untitled by Connie Willis. Connie read the first chapter from an untitled (and as yet unfinished) book at WorldCon and I have no idea when it is coming or what it will be called by I am waiting. Credit card in hand. Just give me a sign Connie…..

And there you have it. A few of the books we are looking most forward to in 2014. Of course, there will be more. Lots, lots more.

Which books are you looking forward to the most in 2014?

Review: Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia

Monster Hunter International by Larry CorreiaFormat read: print book borrowed from the library
Formats available: ebook, paperback, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: Urban fantasy
Series: Monster Hunters International, #1
Length: 452 pages
Publisher: Baen Books
Date Released: August 1, 2009
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Welcome to Monster Hunter International.

Five days after Owen Zastava Pitt pushed his insufferable boss out of a fourteenth story window, he woke up in the hospital with a scarred face, an unbelievable memory, and a job offer.

It turns out that monsters are real. All the things from myth, legend, and B-movies are out there, waiting in the shadows. Officially secret, some of them are evil, and some are just hungry. On the other side are the people who kill monsters for a living. Monster Hunter International is the premier eradication company in the business. And now Owen is their newest recruit.

It’s actually a pretty sweet gig, except for one little problem. An ancient entity known as the Cursed One has returned to settle a centuries old vendetta. Should the Cursed One succeed, it means the end of the world, and MHI is the only thing standing in his way. With the clock ticking towards Armageddon, Owen finds himself trapped between legions of undead minions, belligerent federal agents, a cryptic ghost who has taken up residence inside his head, and the cursed family of the woman he loves.

Business is good . . .

My Review:

Owen Zastava Pitt and Deacon Chalk would probably get along like a house on fire. Even better, a house on fire filled with monsters that they had just wasted–since both those gentlemen pretty much believe that the only good monster is a dead monster.

And they both surely do love their guns. The bigger the better. Generally described in loving detail, to the point where the MHI series is sometimes called “gun-porn”, and justifiably so.

It’s also fun. Not particularly long on plot, but fun.

There’s an old country song by Johnny Paycheck titled “Take This Job and Shove It”. Owen starts out by taking his boss and shoving him out a window. followed by a desk–and it’s totally justified. His truly rotten boss had just turned into a werewolf and nearly killed him. Very nearly.

Owen woke up in the hospital with two humorless FBI dudes waiting to see if he was going to turn furry, and a job offer from Monster Hunters International to come hunt monsters for a living. He told the Fibbies to shove it and took the job with MHI, mostly because one of the MHI operatives was a beautiful girl that he fell head-over-heels for.

And because Owen Pitt had a violent streak a mile wide and MHI was a sanctioned way to let it out.

He hadn’t bargained on needing to save the world. Or on being the only one in 500 years able to do it. Just that being a Monster Hunter was going to be way better than being an accountant. Trying to be normal had basically sucked.

Escape Rating B: Monster Hunter International is pure, unadulterated mind candy. Think of it like toffee. You know you shouldn’t, but once you bite down on it, you can’t resist. And besides, now you’re stuck. You have to keep going because you’ve got to find out where the story is going to go. It’s one impossible, death-defying fight after another. A Sunday B-movie adventure matinee.

Owen, and the author, love their guns. The descriptions are a bit much, and my eyes tended to skim after the first few times. Owen is very big and very heavily armed. Exactly what he was heavily armed with didn’t matter much to me after the first couple of descriptions. YMMV.

blood and bulletsSome readers have compared Owen to Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. That comparison doesn’t fly for me. Harry is way snarkier, doesn’t fight with this type of armed force, and is much fonder of his own brilliance. Owen is a soldier. He reminds me a lot more of Deacon Chalk from James R. Tuck’s terrific series (first book is Blood and Bullets if you want a taste), who is also terribly fond of his armaments. Also, Owen has much better luck with girls than Harry Dresden. For that matter, in spite of the tragedy in his past, so does Deacon.

Also, Owen and Deacon are both southerners, while Harry’s brand of snark is pure Chicago.

If you like monster battles, Monster Hunter International is tons of fun. Lots of monsters, lots of guns, lots of shooting. And the orcs are on the side of the righteous this time!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

12 for 2012: The Best Dozen Books of My Year

It’s surprisingly difficult to decide which books were the absolute best from the year. Not so much the first few, those were kind of easy. But when it gets down to the last three or four, that’s where the nail-biting starts to come into play.

Looking back at the books I reviewed, I gave out a fair number of “A” ratings–but not very many “A+” ratings. And that’s as it should be. But there were also a couple of books that I read, and loved, but didn’t review. I bought them and didn’t write them up.

Love counts for a lot.

And there were a couple that just haunted me. They might not have been A+ books, but something about them made me stalk NetGalley for the rest of the year, searching for the next book in the series. Something, or someone that sticks in the mind that persistently matters.

This is my list of favorites for 2012. Your list, and your mileage, may vary.

Cold Days by Jim Butcher (reviewed 11/30/12). I started reading the Dresden Files out of nostalgia for Chicago, probably my favorite former hometown. But I fell in love with Harry’s snark, and stayed that way. Some of the books have been terrific, and some have been visits with an old friend. Cold Days is awesome, because Harry is finally filling those really big shoes he’s been clomping around Chicago in. He is a Power, and he finally recognizes it. And so does everyone else. What he does with that power, and how he keeps it from changing him, has only begun.

 

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (reviewed 8/29/12). Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series are murder-mysteries. They are also intensely deep character studies, and none in the series more deeply felt than this outing, which takes the Chief Inspector and his flawed second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir to a remote monastery in northern Québec. The murder exposes the rot within the isolated monastic community, and the interference from the Sûreté Chief exposes the rot within the Sûreté itself, and within Gamache’s unit.

 

The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon (reviewed 6/20/12) The latest volume in Gabaldon’s Lord John series, which is a kind of historical mystery series. Lord John Grey solves military problems that tend to get wrapped up in politics. The Scottish prisoner of the title is Jamie Fraser, the hero of Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and takes place in the gap between Drums of Autumn and Voyager. The Scottish Prisoner has to do with an attempt by Lord John and his brother to prevent yet another Jacobite Rebellion by working with Jamie. If you like the Outlander series at all, this one is marvelous.

 

Cast in Peril by Michelle Sagara (reviewed 12/26/12) is the latest in Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra series. Elantra is an urban fantasy, but the setting is a high fantasy world. The emperor is a dragon, for example. But the heroine is human, and flawed. She is also a member of the law enforcement agency. It just so happens that her desk sergeant is a lion. The commander is a hawk. Her best friends are immortal, and one of them is the spirit of a tower.  Kaylin’s striving each day to make the world better than she began it changes everything, even the unchanging immortals around her. Her journey fascinates.

 

Scholar and Princeps by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. I didn’t write reviews of these, and I should have, because I loved them both. Scholar and Princeps are the 4th and 5th books in the Imager Portfolio. The first three books, Imager, Imager’s Challenge, and Imager’s Portfolio were so good I practically shoved them at people. These new ones are in a prequel trilogy, but equally excellent. What’s different about these series is that Modesitt’s heroes in both cases are coming into their powers without it being a coming-of-age story. They are adults who are adjusting to new power and responsibility. It makes the story different from the usual epic fantasy.

 

The First Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay (reviewed 1/6/12). This book was an utter surprise and delight. A former Buddhist monk leaves the monastery, becomes an LAPD detective, and eventually, a private investigator. What a fascinating backstory! Tenzing Norbu, known as Ten, retains just enough of his outsider perspective to be a fascinating point-of-view character. I stalked NetGalley for months waiting for the next book in this series to appear, because I wanted more!

 

The Fallen Queen (reviewed at BLI on 7/3/12) and The Midnight Court (reviewed 8/14/12) by Jane Kindred. I said that Jane Kindred’s House of Arkhangel’sk trilogy reminded me of Russian tea, initially bitter, often and unexpectedly sweet, and filled with immensely complicated rituals. Also incredibly satisfying for those who savor a heady brew. Take Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Snow Queen and cross it with the history of the House of Romanov. Leaven it with the most complicated pantheon of angels and demons you can imagine, then stir well with the political machinations and sexual proclivities described in Kushiel’s Dart. Only with more heartbreak.

About Last Night by Ruthie Knox (reviewed 6/8/12) had me at hand-knitted straight-jacket. But it’s way more fun than that. Also more complicated. It’s the story of a formerly bad girl trying so damn hard to make up for her past mistakes, and unable to forgive herself, and one man who has tried much too hard for much too long to live up to his family’s expectations, in spite of the fact that what his family wants has nothing to do with what he wants for himself. They make a glorious mistake together, that turns out not to have been a mistake after all.

 

Taste Me (reviewed 12/11/12) and Chase Me (reviewed 12/12/12) by Tamara Hogan. The Underbelly Chronicles were a complete surprise, but in an absolutely fantastic way. They are paranormal romance of the urban fantasy persuasion, or the other way around. Every supernatural creature that we’ve ever imagined is real in Hogan’s version of Minneapolis, but with a fascinating twist. They’re real because they are the descendants of a wrecked space ship. That’s right, the vampires, and werewolves, and sirens, are all E.T. And when they find the wrecked ship’s black box after a thousand years, it phones home. The family reunion is coming up in book three. In the meantime, there is a lot of yummy interspecies romance.

The Girl Who Disappeared Twice and The Line Between Here and Gone (reviewed at BLI 6/19/12) by Andrea Kane. I disappeared into The Girl Who Disappeared Twice and didn’t reappear until the end of The Line Between Here and Gone, although I still find the title of the second one more than a bit incomprehensible. Just the same, the Forensic Instincts team that solves the extremely gripping and highly unusual crimes in this new series by Kane is a force to be reckoned with. They have that kind of perfect balance that you see in crime-solving teams with the best chemistry. They are a fantastic “five-man band” which makes it a pure pleasure to watch them work, no matter how gruesome the crime they were solving.

Blue Monday by Nicci French. I’m currently stalking Netgalley for the next book in this series, Tuesday’s Gone. Which is not here yet, so it can’t be bloody gone! This is a mystery, but with a more psychological bent, as the amateur sleuth is a forensic psychologist. This one gave me chills from beginning to end, but it’s the protagonist who has me coming back. Because her work is so personal, she’s both strong and fragile at the same time, and I want to see if she can keep going.

 

And for sheer impact, last and absolutely not least…

The Mine by John A Heldt (reviewed at BLI on 9/28/12). There are surprises, and then there are books that absolutely blow you away. If you have ever read Jack Finney’s classic Time and Again, The Mine will remind you of Finney. Heldt has crafted a story about a boy/man who accidentally goes back in time to America’s last golden summer, the summer of 1941. All he has is a few stories of Seattle in the 1940s that his grandmother told, and a fortunate memory for baseball statistics. What he does is fall in love, with a woman, a time, a place, and a way of life. And then he learns that he can come home, and that he must. No matter how much damage he does by leaving the people he has come to love, he knows that he will do more harm if he stays. The Mine will stick with you long after you finish.

That’s a wrap. I could have gone on. I though about adding honorable mentions, but that way lies madness. Definitely madness! I did list my Best Ebook Romances for 2012 on Library Journal again this year. There are a couple of repeats from that list to this one, but the qualifications are different. LJ has lots of other “best” lists, if you are looking for a few (dozen) more good books.

I’m dreaming of next year.

 

Review: Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Format read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Dresden Files #14
Length: 528 pages
Publisher: Roc
Date Released: November 27, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

HARRY DRESDEN LIVES!!!

After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard.

He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill.

Guess which Mab wants first?

Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No problem there, right? And to make matters worse, there exists a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that could land Harry in the sort of trouble that will make death look like a holiday.

Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own…

His soul.

At the beginning of Harry’s story, all the way back in Storm Front, Harry wasn’t all that much. He was a wizard-for-hire. A private investigator. And hanging on to his life and freedom by his fingernails, because the White Council was pretty damn sure that he was much too loose of a cannon.

Well, Harry has always been a loose cannon, but he’s acquired one hell of a lot more firepower. Some of it literally from hell. But he’s not small potatoes any longer.  Harry Dresden is one of the Great Powers, now, whether or not he remains the Winter Knight (that’s not a spoiler, that’s this reviewer speculating on Harry’s ultimate future).

Magic is often written of as “the will and the word”. In Cold Days, it’s about Harry’s will and Mab’s word. Mab tells Harry to kill an immortal; her daughter Maeve, the Winter Lady. While Harry is required, as the Winter Knight, to obey, Harry never meekly obeys. Ever.

Harry’s magic is all about mastering the force of his will. His will, no one else’s. And even though the mantle of the Winter Knight raises, often literally, every base instinct Harry, or any man, every had, he knows how to suppress those instincts. Even if it hurts.

No matter how tempted he might be to give in. Molly is very pretty, and very willing. But taking her is the first step to becoming a bastard like the last Winter Knight, and Harry will not give in.

Besides, Karrin is still there. Even if she has to come find him. And even if they are both afraid of the monsters that live inside them.

There are too many monsters, and too many games being played. The Winter Court has always been a place where things go down their natural cycle to die, but that is not the game being played now. Too many people, too many agencies, too many beings have changed their behavior all out of recognition because someone, or something, on the outside has changed the game.

And Harry has been made the Winter Knight to stop them. No matter what, or who it costs.

Escape Rating A+: Cold Days lived up to every scrap of shivery anticipation that I had invested in it. I lost myself in this story at every opportunity, no matter what insanity was going on around me, and there was plenty of insanity.

The stakes of Harry’s world have gotten so incredibly high, but it has happened so naturally, that it feels natural and not forced. It’s marvelous and awesome, in the original meaning of the word awesome, full of awe. Harry started out small-time, and now he consorts with gods and legends, and he has become a legend himself. Yet he’s still afraid to see his daughter again. He’s still the same guy inside. That’s why we love him, and that’s why we keep following his story.

I can’t wait for Harry’s next adventure. I’ll say this right now, I wonder how long before he finds a way out from under Mab. We’ll see.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 11-25-12

I feel a certain amount of nostalgia as I write this Sunday Post. This will be my last Sunday Post posted from Atlanta. Next Sunday I’ll be in Seattle. Our stuff will be somewhere in the middle, but I’ll be on the west coast again. I’m looking forward to it.

My cats, probably not so much. We’re flying them again. It’s about five hours on a plane vs. five days in a car. There just aren’t enough tranquilizers in the world for that trip, no matter who the tranqs get administered to.

But this past week has been anything but tranquil. It was Thanksgiving week here in the U.S. And speaking of thankfulness, there are a couple of thankful type-winners announcements!

Kelsey Summer won the Black Friday Blog Hop and Erin Fender won the copy of Ice Cold by Cherry Adair. Congratulations winners!

One specific Thanksgiving note. I spent Thanksgiving in Little Rock, Arkansas with Galen’s sister and her partner. Because we were in Little Rock, I was able to meet up with Jo Jones, the blogger behind the Mixed Book Bag. Jo was in Little Rock visiting her family. Us book bloggers sure do get around!

 

Reading Reality got around last week, too.  Here’s what happened:

A Labor of Love: Picking the Best Ebook Romances of 2012
B- Review: Promise Me by Tara Fox Hall
C+ Review: Broken Promise by Tara Fox Hall
Guest Post: Tara Fox Hall on the Love of Books
B+ Review: Whip Smart by Kit Brennan
Fall In Love Blog Hop
Black Friday Blog Hop
Stacking the Shelves (23)

 

 

 

 

The Fall in Love Blog Hop is still open! The giveaway here at Reading Reality is the winner’s choice of any one book in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, under $10, print or ebook, to any country that Book Depository will ship. I love Harry Dresden, and I want everyone else to fall in love with the poor unlucky wizard too.

So what will be happening this week? I confess, I’m going to be spending a lot of this week moving. There will be pain, and anguish. And three cats locked in the spare bathroom.

On Tuesday, I’ll be reviewing Spectra by Joanne Elder. This book is very cool. It’s science fiction. Not science fiction romance, at least not so far, but science fiction. At the heart is an ethical dilemma. What if you discovered an alien race that were spirit only, no bodies? And what if exposure to them made you smarter, but killed them? And no one would know what you were doing, but you became really, really brilliant? But really evil. I’ve just gotten to the good bits.

And speaking of Harry Dresden…well, I was, just a few paragraphs ago. The latest book in the Dresden Files is coming out on Tuesday. Cold Days, just in time for winter. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy. As a treat to myself, in the midst of all this drama, I will read it, probably immediately, and review. I can’t wait.

What’s exciting in your world this week?

Fall in Love Blog Hop

fall in love giveaway hop

The Fall In Love Giveaway hop was organized by Reading Romances!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Fall in Love (all over again) Giveaway Hop is a chance for me to introduce you to a book that I love, in the hopes that you will love it too. It’s supposed to be a romance book, but I’m going to cheat a little bit.

Because I want you to fall in love with one of my favorite characters. Harry Dresden is the only wizard listed in the Chicago phone directory (one of my favorite cities, too). Harry doesn’t have much of a love life, although he does keep trying. Every time he’s about to get lucky. something goes terribly, horribly wrong. And then he has to get out his wizard’s staff and fuego somebody’s ass. Usually some black court vampire, or evil wizard wannabe. Or both.

The next book in the Dresden Files, Cold Days, will be out on November 27. Because I love Harry so much I’m going to give a copy of any book in the Dresden Files series to one lucky winner, either ebook or print, that costs the equivalent of $10US or less. But this contest is open internationally, anywhere that the Book Depository will ship.

What you can win here: Winner’s choice of one book in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, under $10US ebook or print

Number of winners: 1

Open to (INT, US or US/CAN): INT (must be someplace the Book Depository can ship to)

How to enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Hop and find more prizes!


On My Wishlist-Waiting on Wednesday-Desperately Wanting Wednesday-On the Weekend (6)

I can’t believe I’m wishing for anything remotely called “cold days”. But there’s one (and only one) context where that makes sense.

I miss Harry Dresden. I miss his line of snark. A lot. Having just finished Jim Butcher’s First Lord’s Fury not too long ago, I got teased by Tavi. He was sort of Harry-lite.

I want the real thing. Send me Cold Days. Appropriately scheduled for the end of November.

Harry never can catch a break. Unless it’s a bad one.

Formats available: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Dresden Files #14
Length: 528 pages
Publisher: Roc Books
Date Released: November 27, 2012
Purchasing Info:Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

HARRY DRESDEN LIVES!!!

After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard.

He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill.

Guess which Mab wants first?

Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No problem there, right? And to make matters worse, there exists a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that could land Harry in the sort of trouble that will make death look like a holiday.

Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own…

His soul.

Book Review: First Lord’s Fury by Jim Butcher

Format read: audiobook purchased from audible, print book purchased from Barnes & Noble
Formats available: Hardcover, Mass Market Paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Codex Alera #6
Length: 465 pages
Publisher: Ace Penguin
Date Released: November 24, 2009
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

For years he has endured the endless trials and triumphs of a man whose skill and power could not be restrained. Battling ancient enemies, forging new alliances, and confronting the corruption within his own land, Gaius Octavian became a legendary man of war-and the rightful First Lord of Alera.
But now, the savage Vord are on the march, and Gaius must lead his legions to the Calderon Valley to stand against them-using all of his intelligence, ingenuity, and furycraft to save their world from eternal darkness.

I’ve had the hardcover of First Lord’s Fury on my shelves since it was first released. I’m astonished to see that I’ve been carting it around for three years. I think I didn’t want the Codex Alera series to end. It’s been a big sprawling mess of fun.

And that turned out to be kind of a problem. There are a lot of crow-begotten politics involved in the Codex Alera, and it took me a while to catch up to who was still backstabbing whom–while the Alerans were literally in a fight to save, not just their kingdom, but their entire species. Talk about “fiddling while Rome burns”. And an apt cliche, Alera Imperia owes a lot to Roma Imperia, including its legions.

But the Roman Empire didn’t have magic, at least as far as we know. Alera certainly does.

The center of the series has been Gaius Octavian, but at the beginning, we don’t know that’s who he is. He’s just Tavi. And that was the point. He learns to be First Lord very differently from his predecessors by growing up without the knowledge of who he is, and without the ability to furycraft, to do magic.

He works his way up through the ranks, as a furycrafter, as a legionnaire, as a man. He deals in what is, with or without power. He makes allies that someone who is used to being at the top of the heap would never think of.

The “powers that be” wish that he were anything but what he is. But then, his times demand someone like him. Because the enemy is not another race like the Alerans. They’re not human. They’re not even the Aleran’s ancestral enemies, the Canim. Who are, in truth, intelligent canines. The Alerans and Canim turn out to have common ground.

The enemy is the Vord. And they are insect versions of Star Trek‘s Borg. Just as implacable, just as absorptive  and just as deadly. They do not negotiate, they consume everything in their path.

Tavi has returned in defeat from the lands of the Canim, with the last of the Canim host as his allies, to Alera. The Canim were supposed to kill him. Instead, they’ve returned to bring down the Vord or die trying. Because if they don’t, the Vord will cover the land and there will be nothing left of people or Canim or free will. Only slaves and death.

He’s not supposed to make it. He’s not supposed to reach the last stronghold in time. There’s not enough time and too much ground to cover. But he has more power, and more allies, than anyone expects.

Because Tavi knows how to bring down a foe when they have all the power and he has none. It’s what he was trained for.

Escape Rating A-: Rating this is difficult. It took me quite a while to get back into it, because the politics are very complex. This series is meant to be read from the beginning. Start from Furies of Calderon. Everything is layered, one piece on top of another. Everything matters.

Once I got into it, I couldn’t stop. There were so many different threads, and they were all fascinating to follow. Tavi’s final maturity, in some ways, wasn’t as interesting as the other things that were going on. You knew he was going to get there in time. The only question was, how? His handling of the situation with Valiar Marcus was beautifully done, but I don’t want to spoil it.

Kitai is a terrific, absolutely magnificent example of a female warrior who is different and equal. She represents the outsider’s point of view so well. Her people are less civilized, for certain values of civilized, than the Alerans, so she is able to comment on Tavi’s society in a way that he can’t see.

The Canim are fascinating because they are not human, yet Tavi makes common cause with them. Any warm-blooded, free-thinking race has common cause with him against the Vord. How he works past ages of prejudice and war was, not just interesting, it was often slyly amusing.

The Vord, however, were just a bit too much like the Borg. Really. Plant-based Borg, complete with queen.

About the audiobook. The reader, Kate Reading was great. She voiced all of the parts, including the Canim, who have incredibly rough bass voices that must have been absolute hell to do. However, there were horns blaring at the end of every chapter that drove me nuts. I could seriously have done without the horns, but that wasn’t what made me stop the audio and switch to print. I just couldn’t stand the suspense by the last 50 pages and had to find out how it ended.

If you like epic fantasy and have somehow missed Alera, you’ve missed out on something terrific. And the series is complete, so you can read the whole thing all at once without having to wait. Treat!!!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

11 for 2011: Best reads of the year

2011 is coming to a close. It’s time to pause and reflect on the year that is ending.

There’s a lovely quote from Garrison Keillor, “A book is a present that you can open again and again.” There’s a corollary in this house about “not if the cat is sitting on it” but the principle still applies. The good stories from this year will still be good next year. Some of them may even have sequels!

These were my favorites of the year. At least when I narrow the list down to 11 and only 11. And even then I fudged a bit. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (reviewed 12/1/11). This book had everything it could possibly need. There’s a quest. There’s a love story. It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s an homage to videogaming. There are pop-culture references to every cult classic of science fiction and fantasy literature imaginable. There’s an evil empire to be conquered. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Omnitopia: Dawn by Diane Duane (reviewed 4/22/11). On the surface, Omnitopia and Ready Player One have a lot in common. Thankfully, there is more than meets the eye. Omnitopia takes place in the here and now, or very close to it. The world has not yet gone down the dystopian road that Wade and his friends are looking back at in Ready Player One. On the other hand, any resemblance the reader might see between Worlds of Warcraft mixed with Facebook and Omnitopia, or between Omnitopia Corp and Apple, may not entirely be the reader’s imagination. Howsomever, Omnitopia Dawn also has some very neat things to say about artificial intelligence in science fiction. If you liked Ready Player One, just read Omnitopia: Dawn. Now!

The Iron Knight (reviewed 10/26/11) was the book that Julie Kagawa did not intend to write. She was done with Meghan, her story was over. Meghan is the Iron Queen, but what she has achieved is not a traditional happily-ever-after. Victory came at a price. Real victories always do. Meghan’s acceptance of her responsibility means that she must rule alone. Ash is a Winter Prince, and Meghan’s Iron Realm is fatal to his kind. The Iron Knight is Ash’s journey to become human, or at least to obtain a soul, so that he can join his love in her Iron Realm. It is an amazing journey of mythic proportions.

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel (reviewed 10/18/11) is a story that absolutely shouldn’t work. The fact that it not only works, but works incredibly well, still leaves me gasping in delight. Dearly, Departed is the first, best, and so far only YA post-apocalypse steampunk zombie romance I’ve ever read. I never thought a zombie romance could possible work, period. This one not only works, it’s fun. There’s a sequel coming, Dearly, Beloved. I just wish I knew when.

Debris by Jo Anderton (reviewed 09/29/11) is the first book of The Veiled World Trilogy. It’s also Anderton’s first novel, a fact that absolutely amazed me when I read the book. Debris is science fiction with a fantasy “feel” to it, a book where things that are scientifically based seem magical to most of the population. But the story is about one woman’s fall from grace, and her discovery that her new place in society is where she was meant to be all along.

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (reviewed 09/19/11). If you love mysteries, and you are not familiar with Louise Penny’s work, get thee to a bookstore, or download her first Chief Inspector Gamache mystery, Still Life, to your ereader this instant. Louise Penny has been nominated for (and frequently won) just about every mystery award for the books in this series since she started in 2005. Find out why.

I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches. (This is not a digression, I will reach the point). I have read all Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell books, some more than once. I almost listed Pirate King (reviewed 9/9/11), this year’s Holmes/Russell book instead of Trick. But Pirate King was froth, and Penny never is. A regular contributor to Letters of Mary, the mailing list for fans of the Holmes/Russell books, recommended the Louise Penny books. I am forever grateful.

The Elantra Series by Michelle Sagara (review forthcoming). I confess I’m 2/3rds of the way through Cast in Ruin right now. I’ve tried describing this series, and the best I can come up with is an urban fantasy series set in a high fantasy world. I absolutely love it. It’s the characters that make this series. Everyone, absolutely everyone, is clearly drawn and their personality is delineated in a way that makes them interesting. There are people you wouldn’t want to meet, but they definitely are distinctive. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny in spots, even when it’s very much gallows humor. I’m driving my husband crazy because I keep laughing at the dialog, and I can’t explain what’s so funny. I would love to have drinks with Kaylin. I’d even buy. But the Elantra series is not humor. Like most urban fantasy, it’s very snarky. But the stories themselves have a crime, or now, a very big problem that needs solving, and Kaylin is at the center of it. Whether she wants to be or not.

If you are keeping score somewhere, or just want the reading order, it’s Cast in Moonlight (part of Harvest Moon), Cast in Shadow, Cast in Courtlight, Cast in Secret, Cast in Fury, Cast in Silence, Cast in Chaos, and Cast in Ruin.

The Ancient Blades Trilogy by David Chandler consists of Den of Thieves (reviewed 7/27/11), A Thief in the Night (reviewed 10/7/11) and Honor Among Thieves (reviewed 12/21/11). This was good, old-fashioned sword and sorcery. Which means the so-called hero is the thief and not the knight-errant. And every character you meet has a hidden agenda and that no one, absolutely no one, is any better than they ought to be. But the ending, oh the ending will absolutely leave you stunned.

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher (reviewed 7/29/11) is 2011’s entry in one of my absolute all time favorite series, The Dresden Files. And I saw Jim Butcher in person at one of the Atlanta Barnes & Noble stores. Ghost Story represents a very big change in the Dresden Files universe, where Harry Dresden starts growing into those extremely large boots he’s been stomping around in all these years. If you love urban fantasy, read Dresden.

Turn It Up by Inez Kelley (reviewed 8/10/11 and listed here) is one of the best takes on the “friends into lovers” trope that I have ever read. Period. Also, I’m an absolute sucker for smart people and witty dialogue, and this book is a gem. “Dr. Hot and the Honeypot” pretty much talk each other into a relationship, and into bed, while they give out sassy advice over the airwaves on their very suggestive and extremely successful sexual advice radio show.

My last book is a two-fer. Break Out (reviewed 8/4/11) and Deadly Pursuit (reviewed 12/6/11) by Nina Croft are the first two books in her Blood Hunter series, and I sincerely hope there are more. This is paranormal science fiction romance. Like Dearly, Departed, this concept should not work. But it absolutely does. And it gets better the longer it goes on. If you have an urban fantasy world in the 20th century, what would happen if that alternate history continued into space? Where do the vamps and the werewolves go? They go into space with everyone else, of course. And you end up with Ms. Croft’s Blood Hunter universe, which I loved. But you have to read both books. The first book just isn’t long enough for the world building. The second one rocks.

I stopped at 11 (well 11-ish) because this is the 2011 list. I could have gone on. And on. And on. My best ebook romances list was published on Library Journal earlier in the month. LJ has a ton of other “best” lists for your reading pleasure. Or for the detriment of your TBR pile.