My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

7bb5c7d32a-3f1e-4e22-9328-dc4798da61cd7dimg100I just listened to the audiobook, read by Joan Walker, and was blown away. This is a wonderful tale about a girl named Elsa, 7 going on 8, who lives in a big house in a big city. She spends most of her time, when she’s not in school, with her granny, who used to be a doctor before she became a grandmother. Granny used to travel the world saving other people, which is ironic because Elsa lives across the hall with her mother, who’s a hospital administrator and doesn’t spend much time at home because she’s very busy. George also lives with them. He wears jogging shorts and everyone likes him, so Elsa tries not to, because that’s only fair. Granny can be a bit of a shit, so when she dies she leaves Elsa a treasure hunt of letters to deliver, to let people know she’s sorry.

Joan Walker makes you feel like she’s reading a fairy tale just to you. It’s an absolute delight. I can not recommend it enough.

Free Books and Good Books

I haven’t posted in forever. Mostly that was because I found I was more picky when I had reviewing in the back of my head, but also because I ran into a long line of crap books. What can I say, I just got tired of saying “this one sucks, and this one sucks, and this one sucks” (two points if you can identify the routine).

Recently I signed up for “The Fussy Librarian” and “BookBub” mailing lists. They both promote (mostly) new books and there are usually a couple of free books listed. I’m always willing to expand my horizons if it’s free! The downside is that my e-reader is in serious need of purging. Unfortunately most of these books are worth exactly what you pay for them, but here are a couple of exceptions:

A Feral Darkness – Boranna Durgin. A paranormal book for dog people, but actually a little harder than that to classify. I’m not a dog person, but this was a little bit different and good enough to make it all the way through.

alectoThe Alecto Initiative – Jordan Leah Hunter  and Owen R. O’Neill. Good enough that I actually bought the next two in the trilogy. This is military sci-fi with a strong female lead character, but instead of your usual put-upon cadet trying to uphold (or redeem) the family military tradition, Kris starts off as a slave who so brutally murders her master during her rescue that we don’t even find out the details until the third book.

A few other new authors I’ve been enjoying in the paper world:

51etdgpulgl-sx316Ann Leckie has a military sci-fi series that I enjoyed. What makes this series unique is that the protagonist is the last surviving component of The Justice of Toren, a starship AI that has been destroyed under mysterious circumstances. As a result, Breq has to get used to having only one body, as well as seeking vengeance. Ancillary Justice is the first of the trilogy.

 

51kguqx8lil-sx316The Golden City – J. Kathleen Cheney. This is the first book in a trilogy about various magical beings living in secret in the Golden City. Not because they’re secret, but because they’ve been banned by a paranoid prince whose death has been prophesied to be at the hands of one of them. I started reading this with some doubts about whether I’d finish, but it kept me interested and I ended up reading the entire trilogy.

 

51cpf2bz1u2bl-_sx336_bo1204203200_Serafina and the Black Cloak – Beatty, Robert. Serafina lives in the basement of a large estate with her father, the handyman, but no one knows that. This is a fun and spooky book – who is Serafina and why does her father keep her hidden away? What will happen if she reveals herself to help the children who have gone missing? There’s as much of a mystery about the characters as there is in the plot.

Did Not Finish

I hate to give up on books, but sometimes it’s just too painful to continue. You know how they say about dieting that you should love every calorie? You should love every word too.

So here’s my Did Not Finish list for this month:

The Kill Artist, by Daniel Silva. Basically, this book reinforces the point that the Middle-East is just a giant Hatsfields & McCoys feud and the only way it’s all going to end is when they all kill each other off. Best proof that there is no god: if there were he/she/it would have scrubbed the region clean and started over long ago. I read about half while waiting for Windows 10 to download and couldn’t care less what happened next, but I’d bet money the only slightly worthwhile character in the story will become collateral damage in the last few pages. It’s that kind of book.

The Burning Sky, Sherry Thomas. Poorly done Harry Potter knock-off. I read 50 pages or so and couldn’t go on. Poorly written, unbelievable characters and hugely, hugely derivative. Hugely.

The Drafter, Kim Harrison. I feel kind of bad about this one because I’ve generally liked Kim Harrison’s novels, but the hook on this one is so tired and worn out I couldn’t really engage. Main character is fighting bad guys, but loses her memory and relies on best buddy to tell her what happened. Best buddy turns out to be a liar. Now who are the real bad guys? Who can she trust? Yada yada yada. Slightly cool that she loses her memory every time she re-writes the past, but not enough to overcome the basic problem that this theme has been done to death.

Make Me

makemeJack Reacher has been wandering the U.S. for years now, stumbling into one mess after another and out-thinking and out-punching the bad guys every time. In Make Me he steps off the train in the prairie town of Mother’s Rest because he’s curious as to how the town got its name. He has two working theories, either a mother died or a mother gave birth during the long wagon-train ride West, but he figures there’ll be a small plaque somewhere that will solve the mystery. “He had no place to go, and all the time in the world to get there…”

Reacher is ex-Military Police, honorably discharged by mutual agreement, and, after spending his life in bases around the world, spending some time getting to know the U.S. This is how Reacher novels begin, with Reacher just minding his own business and ending up in the wrong place at the right time.

Generally Reacher novels are pretty straight-forward. Reacher does something that someone paranoid interprets as a threat, they try to take him out, Reacher cleans up and moves on. There are occasional references to the past, but basically each novel could stand alone. This one is a bit more convoluted than usual – he partners up with a private detective, flies around the country tracking leads, gets injured, and doesn’t just walk away at the end. The next novel will have to continue some threads.

Good old-fashioned, hard-core action/mystery.

The Hanged Man

hangedP.N. Elrod writes a lot of vampire novels. I’m so tired of vampire novels. So, I was delighted to read her latest, which is mostly a historical mystery with a paranormal aspect. (Although there’s reason to suspect that one of the characters is a vampire, there’s no reveal in this book.)

Alexandrina “Alex” Pendlebury works for The Service in 1879 London. She’s a “Reader,” able to pick up emotions from others and, more importantly, able to pick up emotional traces left at crime scenes. On the morning of Christmas 1879 she’s called in to a suicide by hanging that Scotland Yard is not completely satisfied with. It turns out to be a murder staged as a suicide, and the victim turns out to be her father, who she last saw in Hong Kong 10 years earlier.

This is a well written mystery with interesting characters that I suspect will form the core of a band of investigators in future books: the empath, the seer, the doctor, the old family retainer…

I look forward to seeing where this series goes next.

Trickster’s Choice

choiceI have a stack of books on my bedside stand waiting to be read, and none of them appeal. Too much violence lately and one of them is a bad Harry Potter knock-off/fan fiction that I probably won’t finish. So, time to re-read an old favorite.

Tamora Pierce is always a good read. She started off writing elementary school quartets and trilogies and then the language and the length slowly increased and now they’re YA novels. They’re all “coming of age” novels featuring a young woman. (And she always seems to fall in love with an older man by the fourth book, but I guess by that time she’s proven herself.)

Trickster’s Choice, and the follow-up Trickster’s Queen, feature Aly, daughter of the King’s Champion and his spymaster. Aly wants to be a spy, but her parents are adamantly opposed. Then Aly is captured by slavers through the contrivance of the trickster god, who has a use for her. She makes a deal with the god that if she helps a family survive until autumn he will return her home. Since they are on the bad side of a crazy king, and she’s a slave, this turns out to be a challenge that draws on all the skills learned helping her father.

Of course it’s good. I’m re-reading it.

The Doll

dollI finished listening to The Doll a few days ago, but it’s taken some time to recover. If you haven’t read Taylor Stevens‘ Vanessa Michael Munroe books before then think of Michael as Reacher’s dark twin. Intense, violent, merciless. Where Reacher brings justice, Michael brings vengeance.

In The Doll Michael and her best friend are kidnapped. Michael must deliver a package or her friend will die. The package is a young woman who has been specifically ordered from The Doll Maker, a human trafficker with a obsession with life-like dolls.

Coincidentally, as I was listening to this the local paper ran a series on human trafficking in the area.

So, emotionally draining, fast-paced thiller. Extremely well written. And topical.

Long Black Curl

curlLong Black Curl is the third in Bledsoe’s series about the Tufa, so if you haven’t read the others don’t even think of starting here.

In The Hum and the Shiver Bronwyn Hyatt returns home to Cloud County, Tennessee from Iraq to recuperate after being wounded in combat. She didn’t want to return, but she’s a First Daughter of the Tufa and it’s hard enough for any Tufa to leave – for a First Daughter the night winds will bring you back whatever it takes.

Wisp of a Thing is the second volume in the series. Although the focus is on a wandering musician, we meet a number of residents and learn a lot more about them. The first volume is almost more thriller than fantasy, but in Wisp the veil is pulled back all the way. There’s magic in them thar hills.

After a murderous rampage Bo-Kate Wisby and her boyfriend Jefferson Powell were banished from Cloud County. In Long Black Curl Bo-Kate has found a way back. It’s been 50 years (but time works differently for the Tufa) so she’s had plenty of time to simmer and she’s bent on revenge and a take-over.

Bledsoe is probably better known for his Eddie LaCrosse hard-boiled detective fantasies, but if you like your Urban Fantasy with an edge you’ll love this series.

Throne of Glass

throneCelaena Sardothien is a master assassin condemned to the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes. The king decides that he needs a champion to assist with conquering the world and in order to chose the best one he holds a competition.  Twenty-three of his court are invited to put forth a candidate. The prince selects Celaena.

There is a lot of back story that is hinted at throughout the story and clearly more to come in future sequels (three, so far). This story focuses on the competition and the characters and intrigue of the court. There’s also a nice love triangle forming between Celaena, the prince, and the captain of the guards.

Overall, a satisfying read. The story, itself, is excellent. The writing, not good enough to make this an outstanding novel. I’ve been trying to put my finger on where it falls short and having trouble pointing to anything specific. I didn’t really engage and I’m not sure why – not enough depth to the characters perhaps, or a tone that didn’t adequately reflect the action. At any rate, I’ll try out the rest of the series. There’s a lot of potential here.

Amusingly, here’s the author photo. Look familiar?

The Islands of Chaldea

chaldeaAileen is the last of a line of wise women on the island of Skarr, but her initiation ritual failed and she really doesn’t want to go back into the Place to try again. Then Aileen and her aunt Beck are sent off with a small group to gather someone from each of the islands of Chaldea, break the magical barrier to Logra and rescue the kidnapped prince. Along the way they are joined by an ugly, invisible cat, a green parrot that talks sense and his monk, and other allies.

I was born too early to enjoy Diana Wynne Jones as a child, but I certainly have enjoyed her books as an adult. Her work is aimed at a young middle school audience, but Jones is another of those authors where I say to hell with the age rating and read her anyway.

This is the last book she wrote and stands alone – it’s not a Chrestomanci novel, even subtly. It was completed after her death by her sister, who has done a marvelous job of keeping the tone true to her writing style. If you haven’t discovered Diana Wynne Jones before, then you have a treasure trove before you. Share it with your kids.