Books? What Books? 2015 Reading Highlights

This has been a great year for books. Many, many words have been devoured. I’ve discovered new authors, and caught up with my to-read-list. Well, partially, at least: that thing is a never-ending pit of doom and delight. Hopefully you’ve had a great year for reading too… But if you’re still looking for bookish inspiration, I’ve invited a few guests to share their reading highlights for 2015. Enjoy!


Jo Zebedee, author of Inish Carraig, Abendau’s Heir, and the upcoming (2016) sequels Sunset over Abendau and Abendau’s Legacy:

Mother of Eden, Chris Beckett – I really love this series, it’s probably one of my favourite sf reads for a long time. I wondered how Chris would balance the story moving so far forwards and new characters and what not, but he did it beautifully. Love it.

The Minituarist, Jessie BurtonReally enjoyed this. Very clever, very evocative of its time, nice central male character (I found the female ones a little harder to like but overall more intriguing). Well worth a look at.

The Woman who Stole my Life, Marian Keyes – Just finished this. Fabulous. Well worth a look at for use of a frame story and for how to keep the predictable will-they/won’t-they story fresh.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers – This is also nearly on my biggest disappointment list. I enjoyed it but it didn’t come close to the hype for me.

Marina, Carlos Ruiz Zafon – Sumptuous. Just sumptuous. And creepy.

Winter Ghosts, Kate Mosse – I’ve never been a huge fan of Mosse, but this I loved. Very evocative of the time and place.

Finally, one of my very favourite reads was a beta/first read of the Sir Edric books by Thaddeus White. I was begging for the next installment as fast as it could be written. Out next year from Tickety Boo Press and I’ll be getting the nice shiny new version the day it comes out!


Steven Pooreauthor of The Heir to the North and the upcoming (2016) sequel, The High King’s Vengeance:

All That Outer Space Allows, Ian Sales – Tour de force conclusion to the Apollo Quartet that ought to be an award-winner in any year.

A Darker Shade of Magic, VE Schwab – A gloriously fun start to a new series, told with pace, clarity and verve.

The Stars Seem So Far Away, Margret Helgadottir – Fractured stories of a fractured earth; as bleak as the tundra, and as deep as the ocean.


Jennifer Carson, fantasy author and editor, has worked for a number of publishers such as Simon and Schuster, currently an editor for Tickety Boo Press.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline – I read this book at the nagging of my husband, and I have to admit, he was right. It was one of four books I read this year that put me in page-turner mode. Wade Watts is a teen who prefers to live in a Matrix-like construction called OASIS. When the OASIS creator dies, he leaves his vast fortune to the first person who win his easter egg hunt with only riddles to guide them. I’m usually quite put off by VR stories, but I loved this one. Mostly because I’m a closet geek, and I got 90% percent of the references and had played all the major games named in the story. I even out-geeked my true geek husband and got one of the riddles right away. He was floored. “How did you get that?” he asked. To which I replied, “How did you not? We spent our first date playing that game. You introduced me to PCs with it!” So if you love the oldies…or were there when those games were cutting edge (we won’t say which category Hubby and I fall into…but you can guess), this book is most definitely worth the read. The only negatives for me were that I wished the end had been a little stronger, and I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it so thoroughly had I not played these games. But if you like VR stories or video games, it’s certainly worth taking a look at the free download sample. I was hooked by the end of that!

Endeavour, Ralph Kern – This is the only project I’ve worked on that I chose to include. Why? Because in my thirty years of editing, this book was my favorite project. I found myself reading it when I should have been working on it. Even when I came to the end of my editing day, I would read just a few more pages ahead as a sneak peek for the next day’s work. I was quite happy to follow our intrepid explorers as they tried to answer the Fermi paradox: If space is so huge, where is everybody? As they search for extraterrestrial life, we watch the people of earth leap into the future and pass by our team who, as a byproduct of relativistic time issues, become one-way time travelers. The weakness of the book would have to be characterization. The characters are good enough to do the job of carrying their share of the story, but they aren’t deeply fleshed out. Rather, this book is a plot-driven story. I enjoyed how it took a mystery from the past in our real world and used it to generate a science fiction story that answered that mystery (But then, it was one I was always interested in, even did a book report on it in school). All in all, I really feel that Ralph has captured some of the flavor of the heyday of SF and the midcentury greats, then modernized it for today’s audiences. This is true hard science fiction, driven by story and science, and one very enjoyable read.

Dust and Light, book one of the Sanctuary duet, Carol Berg – Carol Berg is a favorite author of mine. I absolutely loved her Lighthouse duet and her Rai Kirah trilogy, so I was thrilled to find out she was doing a Sanctuary duet in the same world as the Lighthouse one. This story is about a sorcerer character whose talent is to sketch the truth of a man’s soul, and just how far others will go to keep those truths covered. Lucian pays the price for a talent he only fully comes to understand through the course of the book, and it costs him everything…family, liberty, even sanity. Angst-driven characters are a specialty of Berg’s, and this one was no disappointment. Following Lucian’s tortured journey kept me turning pages, though they are not necessarily for everyone. My husband doesn’t like the tortured-hero schtick as much as I do. He finds these characters to be downers. But if you like the suffering hero who endures and is transformed, a character who is reforged in the crucible of life, give this talented author a try. I still like the other two I listed above better, but this one did not disappoint. I can’t wait to dive into book two over the Christmas break!


Thaddeus White, author of Bane of Souls, Journey to Altmortis, Sir Edric’s Temple (to be re-released in 2016) and the upcoming Sir Edric’s Treasure:

Abendau’s Heir, Jo Zebedee – a deliciously dark tale of empire and family feud in space. It takes the reader into the hearts of its protagonists, and features a number of stellar moments, including a fantastically grim scene two-thirds or so into the book [the best fiction I’ve read this year].

The Greatest Knight, Thomas Asbridge – William Marshal was apparently the first man not a king to have his own biography, and this book reveals why. From being abandoned by his father and threatened with death as a child to rising to prosperity thanks to his military skill, Marshal served multiple kings during one of the most turbulent times in history, and this biography is well worth reading.

Ghost on the Throne, James Romm – when Alexander died his generals and relatives were thrust into a decades-long struggle for supremacy. Akin to a pack where every wolf considers himself (or herself…) alpha, the cadre of bold and clever men and women Alexander left behind engage in ferocious war for the ghost’s empire.


Nathan Hystad, author of many science fiction, fantasy and horror short stories and editor-in-chief at Woodbridge Press:

Fool’s Quest, Robin Hobb – She is my one of if not my favorite author, and though the book could have been condensed in the middle by a couple hundred pages, the ending was enough to push this to one of my top reads of the year. She is one of the authors I can’t wait to read.

Salem’s Lot, Stephen King – I am a huge King fan and since he has so many books, I have really only read maybe a third of them. This was a wonderful book, and it was hard to believe it was published fourty years ago. If you haven’t read this book…do it!

Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C Clarke – This was my first Clarke experience, and it was a great one. The sense of tension and build up was palpable. It ended slightly disappointing but the book was so good, it was inspiring. I also read Childhood’s End after it, and really enjoyed it too.


A big thank you to all my lovely blog guests and readers. Happy New Year, everyone, and may 2016 be a year of great stories!


Gemini Cell by Myke Cole

(A long overdue review, also known as ‘Hey, the year ain’t over yet!’…)

I’ve been a fan of Myke Cole‘s military fantasy from the first page of his first Shadow Ops novel, Control Point, so when I heard a ‘prequel’ novel was on its way I was understandably excited. The only reason I didn’t brave a blizzard to walk to the bookstore on release day was that I didn’t think anyone would be there to sell me a copy!

Set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, which readers of Cole’s work will already be familiar with, Gemini Cell tells the story of US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer, a highly-trained professional who turns himself and his family into unexpected targets after complications arise on a mission.

But while Jim’s life seems to fall apart when enemies come knocking, his story is only getting started. Raised from the dead by a military sorcerer and set to work within the top-secret Gemini Cell, Jim finds himself searching for unpleasant truths while wrestling the literal inner demon that keeps him alive.

Gemini Cell has all the trademark heart-thumping, high-adrenaline action we can expect from a Myke Cole novel. But it goes beyond a fast-paced and exciting plot; at heart, Gemini Cell is a love story. Love moves the characters, pushing them to survival, and love gives Jim the power to resist the strange new forces that call him back into existence. Love is the ultimate motivator, and it’s the light that shines in the bleakest moments of this thrilling tale.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Jim Schweitzer’s story in the sequel, Javelin Rain, which comes out in March 2016. And hopefully this time I won’t find a blizzard in my way.



A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

I know, I know. I’m late to the ADSOM party. Almost a year late. That’s…actually not a bad thing, since it means I have less time to wait before book number 2, A Gathering of Shadows, hits the bookstores in February.

Yes, book number 2, for which there will be much pre-ordering, and undignified excitable ‘squeeing’, and release-day in-store pickup, which is a little tradition I reserve for certain favorites like the latest Myke Cole or Rick Riordan.

As you’ve probably noticed (if you made it through all the squeeing), I loved A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab (writing as V. E. Schwab). In fact, it’s been a while since I fell absolutely head-over-heels in adoration for a novel like I did with this one. I think the last time I was this smitten was with Tom Pollock’s fabulous Skyscraper Throne trilogy (see my Gushy-McGusherson review here).

ADSOM, to use the in-vogue abbreviation, is primarily the tale of Kell, one of the last Traveler-magicians able to move between the parallel Londons that exist in three different alternate universes. There’s Red London, Kell’s home, where magic flourishes, considered an intrinsic part of life. There’s dark and dangerous White London, where people fight to control and dominate magic, and magic fights back. And then there’s the Grey London of King George III, dull and devoid of magic. Once upon a time there was also a Black London. But no one speaks of the missing world.

While in Grey London, Kell – ambassador for Red London – crosses paths with wily street thief Delilah. Their stories tangle as they’re forced to flee together, first into Red London and then later into the White realm, in order to save the worlds and stay alive.

So what was so special about this novel? This was my first time reading anything by Schwab, and I was blown out of the water by her smart, clean prose. She writes in a concise and unadorned manner, painting a vivid picture without too much unnecessary fluff.

Victoria deserves praise for her worldbuilding and plot, which are certainly unique. But, ultimately, what hooked me were her delicious characters: a nice mixture of dark and light, with a healthy dash of the cheeky wink. If you haven’t read this yet, and want something fun and beautifully written to dive into over the holidays, you really can’t go wrong with A Darker Shade of Magic.


Just look at those covers!

The Heir to the North by Steven Poore

Let me get something straight: The Heir to the North blew me away.

Right, now that’s out of the way, I can start from the beginning. I picked up Steven Poore’s recent fantasy release, thinking at the time that I wasn’t going to like it much. The blurb sounded a little tropey, and a peek at the first page didn’t really do anything to dispel that preconception. But I rather liked the cover, and I was in the mood for some good old-fashioned epic fantasy, so I settled in one night to give it a go.

Three hours later my husband tapped me on the shoulder. “Are you planning on sleeping?” It was almost midnight, and I was nearly halfway through the book.

The Heir to the North (Kristell Ink, 2015) is one of those stories that, despite a bombshell of a prologue, starts out ever so softly. Told from the viewpoint of storyteller-in-training Cassia, nothing really happens in the first part of the story. Or rather, lots of things happen, but it’s told delicately in a wash of watercolors rather than in Joe Abercrombie’s heart-thumping mad-swirl-of-acrylics style.

Sounds boring? Far from it. What I found so special about Cassia’s journey is that Steven has that rare knack of sliding his readers right under his protagonist’s skin. Before long I was living and breathing Cassia’s tale, heart settling into the rhythm of the road, pounding in fear when hers did, beating a little faster at her trials and triumphs.

By the time the pace picked up I was Cassia, and the tale was all the more exciting for it. I tore through the last third of the book only to find that Steven takes every single one of those tropes I was afraid of way back in the beginning and tips them on their head, with one of the most surprising endings I’ve seen in a long time. And later I found myself on the sofa, mind still trapped in the settling dust of Steven’s tale, and wondered how on earth he’d managed to take black and white and mix them up, and turn his whole world shades of grey.

A stunning offering from Steven Poore, and I look forward to the second book and the story’s conclusion.

From Amazon:

“Caenthell will stay buried, and the North will not rise again until I freely offer my sword to a true descendant of the High Kings—or until one takes it from my dying hands!”

With this curse, the Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell. The bloodline of the High Kings disappeared and the kingdom faded into dark legend until even stories of the deed lost their power. But now there is an Heir to the North.

Cassia hopes to make her reputation as a storyteller by witnessing a hardened soldier and a heroic princeling defeat Malessar and his foul curse. But neither of her companions are exactly as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories that have been buried for centuries.

As Cassia learns secrets both soldier and warlock have kept hidden since the fall of Caenthell, she discovers she can no longer merely bear witness. Cassia must become part of the story; she must choose a side and join the battle.

The North will rise again.


Have Book, Will Read #6

It’s autumn in Connecticut. The leaves are a riot of glorious color and the days have been crisp, clear, blue-sky beauties. We even had our first snow flurry today! It’s been just cold enough to grab a blanket and a cup of tea, and snuggle up for those evening reads.

I know, I know. I sound like a brochure of some sort. But it’s hard not to go off on a poetic streak when this sort of thing is all around you! Can’t you just smell the wood smoke in the air?

2015-10-10 14.43.27

With all this seasonal splendor, I’ve been in the mood for a bit of fun and my latest reads reflect all that jumping-in-the-leaf-piles joy.

Recent Reads: Geeks, gods, and gunslingers galore.

I finally swung by the bookstore and picked up Mike Jung’s Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities, a great middle grade book that had been on my to-read list since I met Mike at a SCBWI conference in April. The story is set in Copperplate City, where Vincent Wu is local superhero Captain Stupendous’ number one fan. Vincent and his friends know the hero’s every classic fight move, and follow his battles avidly.

But then their idol begins acting strangely, and at the same time, so does Vincent’s school crush, Polly. What’s the link between the two, and who’s the new super villain bent on destroying Stupendous? This is a truly fun story, and well worth a read, especially if you have preteens to share it with. It was lighthearted, fast-paced, and as a bonus Mike uses caps LIKE A BOSS.

Next up was the latest offering from Rick Riordan, The Sword of Summer. This kicks off his new series, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, where Riordan moves away from the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians to tackle Norse mythology. I’ve been a huge fan of his work since I picked up the first Percy Jackson book in 2010, and he didn’t disappoint in this one.

In a return to first person narrative after the Heroes of Olympus series, Rick gives us demigod Magnus Chase, who is – you guessed it! – Annabeth’s cousin, and who starts the book by dying heroically. Magnus then gets to travel to Valhalla and romp through several of the mythological Norse worlds with an elf, a dwarf, and a Valkyrie while attempting to stave off Ragnarok, the end of the world. All in a day’s work for one of Odin’s chosen einherjar warriors, right?

I thought I knew a little of Norse mythology, but was surprised by how much I didn’t know, and by how outrageous a lot of it is. The book was full of crazy, laugh-out-loud moments. Magnus is a smart-mouthed, streetwise character, and I’m looking forward to following the series.

I also recently discovered Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series, and devoured the first three books in a row. The first two, Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special, take us to New York City with Verity Price, a well-armed and highly-trained cryptozoologist and ballroom dancer studying the local cryptid population while she evades a murderous snake cult and tries her best to keep the monster hunters of the Covenant of Saint George from invading her turf and killing the creatures she’s promised to protect.

The third, Half-Off Ragnarok, moves to Ohio, where Verity’s brother Alex is studying the local swamp cryptids with help from his gorgon assistant. But when people start dying, petrified by something or someone, Alex needs to uncover what’s going on before he and his Australian cryptozoologist girlfriend are the next items checked off the assassin’s list.

Seanan serves us an incredibly rich world full of dragon princesses, gorgons, bogeymen, talking mice, and more, as well as some great human main characters and a flirty, fun, fast-moving plot. I have to say, I’m hooked. My only problem is choosing my favorite Price kid… Or maybe I’ll just keep them both!

Now Reading: Swords and Swashbuckling.

I’ve just started Swords and Scoundrels, first in Julia Knight’s The Duelists trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed her fantasy noir trilogy about pain mage Rojan Dizon, written as Francis Knight, so when I heard she was working on a tale of swords and highwaymen I was anxious to give it a try.

I’m only a chapter in, but the main characters, brother and sister master duelists Vocho and Kacha, seem pretty great so far. And the cover is absolutely delicious!

To Read: Alien civilizations, small town wonders, and sword maidens.

First on my list after I finish Julia’s book is The Last War by Alex Davis, which has been sitting on my kindle for a while and has a really interesting premise. You’re up next, Mr. Davis! I also just picked up Biblia Longcrofta, a series of connected short stories by Simon Marshall-Jones, and I’m awaiting Steven Poore’s fantasy debut The Heir to the North, which should be landing on my kindle any day now.

Lots of goodness ahead, so let the leaves fall and the snow flurries, um, flurry. I’ve got blankets, I’ve got a few gallons of tea, and there are words a-waiting.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

I’m a huge fan of Butcher’s Dresden Files, as anyone who’s peeked at this blog before probably knows by now. I also found Jim’s Codex Alera books pretty enjoyable. So I was understandably intrigued when I heard that he was working on a steampunk series, to be called The Cinder Spires.

The first in the new series came out last week (joy!), and I have to confess I dropped everything I was supposed to be doing and read myself stupid, swallowing up the whole darn thing in one big gulp. Was it really that good? Well, yeah, pretty much.


The Aeronaut’s Windlass is set among the Spires that shelter humanity, towering miles above the surface of the world. Crystal powered airships keep peace between the different Spires, but the skies are also full of traders, pirates, and privateers.

Disgraced former soldier Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship Predator, and has been taking part in the cold war between his beloved Spire Albion and the opposition, Spire Aurora, by helping disrupt the enemy’s shipping lines. But after the Predator is damaged in an ambush, Grimm is offered the help he needs to rebuild his ship in exchange for a favor for the Spirearch of Albion: to take a team of agents on a mission which could save all of Albion and repel the Auroran invasion.

Grimm’s team includes a couple of eccentric Etherealists, three Guard cadets, and one talking cat. That’s right, cat. Did I forget to mention the cats? Well, in Jim’s world, cats are intelligent talking creatures who will have to be forgiven for thinking humans are a little dense. Because we probably are.

Cats aside (begging your pardon, cats!), The Aeronaut’s Windlass was a fun and fast-paced start to the new series, with some truly great characters in it. There was plenty of action, a good dollop of intrigue, and even a hint of a love story or two. Also, airship battles! It had a good, solid ending, but left enough intriguing teases to ensure that I look forward to the next book.

Nicely done, Mr. Butcher. Oh, and please don’t tell my dog, but I’ve placed an order for one of those talking cats…

Stella is not impressed.

The Dresden Files Reread: Books 11 – 15

And so we’ve reached the end of my Dresden Files reread (and I still blame Tumblr!). It’s been fun reconnecting with Harry and Co. Even though many of the novels were still reasonably fresh in my mind, going back to the very beginning gave me a chance to spot the clues Jim Butcher has been leaving as he builds his series.

The Dresden Files just keeps on getting better, and I look forward to the new book, Peace Talks, which should be out in January 2016 according to Jim’s recent Reddit AMA. To help time pass before my next dose of Chicago’s finest, I’ve already preordered Jim’s latest venture, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, first in his new steampunk Cinder Spires series.

The last five books on my Dresden list are both incredibly action-packed (but hey, it’s Harry, what’s new?!) and push the stakes up even more. There are some seriously intense stories in this next batch, and I think the only reason the encroaching darkness doesn’t become unbearable is that the fast pace doesn’t give us time to think too hard until it’s over and then it’s all, ‘wow’ and ‘I can’t believe he did that to them’. Fast and furious, and Harry just keeps getting more and more interesting as Butcher adds facets and depths to his character.






Turn Coat, Book 11 of The Dresden Files

The story kicks off with Warden Morgan, who has always hated Harry, staggering up to his door half dead and seeking help. From then on the plot thickens with Harry racing to figure out the traitor among the ranks of the White Council. When his brother, Thomas, is taken by a super-powered shapeshifting naagloshi, Harry performs a Sanctum Invocation and bonds with Demonreach, the spirit of the island he visits in Small Favor.

After rescuing Thomas with the help of a number of Council members and House Raith, Harry confronts the White Council and unmasks the real traitor.

Highpoints of Turn Coat include Mouse having to intervene multiple times when Morgan and Molly keep trying to kill each other (basically every time Harry leaves them alone!), seeing the Senior Council members working alongside the Raith ladies, and wizard Listens-to-Wind’s awesome shapeshifting powers.

Changes, Book 12 of the Dresden Files

One of the most heartbreaking Dresden Files novels and, for this reason, one of the hardest to reread. Seriously. I had to mentally steel myself to dive back into this one, knowing how much I was going to suffer alongside Harry.

In Changes, Harry finds out that he’s a father. He and half-vampire Susan Rodriguez have a little girl, only six years old, who has been taken by the Red Court in order to fuel a blood ritual that will take out little Maggie, Harry, and all his relations. Meaning Thomas, and Ebenezar, who in this book is revealed to be Harry’s maternal grandfather.

Harry gathers a taskforce to take back his daughter at the ritual site in Mexico. However, shortly before they are scheduled to depart, Harry is badly injured and crippled from the waist down. He makes a deal with Mab: he’ll take up the mantle of Winter Knight she’s been offering him since he helped take down Lloyd Slate in book 4, Summer Knight, if first she lets him save Maggie.

Harry’s group storms the ritual site with the help of some last-minute assistance from Vadderung (Odin) and Ebenezar McCoy. But he ends up killing Susan, who sacrifices herself for her daughter’s safety. When they get back to Chicago, Harry is shot. The story ends with Harry falling into the cold depths of Lake Michigan, dead.

Wow, right? This is arguably the most intense of Jim Butcher’s novels so far. Not only does Harry gain a daughter and a grandfather, he loses Susan, who he still loves, and loses himself too, first to Mab and then to a bullet. Way to leave us on a cliffhanger, Jim! But seriously, it’s an incredible book, although a very dark and painful one, too.

Ghost Story, Book 13 of the Dresden Files

This one comes very close to Skin Game as contender for favorite in this batch of novels. Harry is a ghost! And he can’t touch things, or do magic! Well, at least at first. To see an all-powerful wizard such as Harry having to deal with the baby-steps frustration of suddenly knowing nothing about how the world works was a refreshing break.

By isolating Ghost Harry and making him deal with things on a different plane of existence, albeit within the world he used to know, Jim allows us a much needed breather from all the rest of the drama. It was an unusual direction to take, and in my opinion it totally works.

In Ghost Story we see Harry strengthening ties with archangel Uriel as he returns to Chicago in spirit form to discover the person behind his murder. He gets caught up in the dead Corpsetaker’s attempt to gain a new magic-compatible body by taking over ectomancer Mortimer Lindquist. To save Mort, Harry teams up with a legion of ghosts as well as his old buddies Murphy, Molly, Butters, and Co. The story ends with Harry concluding his mission and returning to life to find himself on Demonreach, being tended to by Mab and the island’s spirit.

Although there is a lot of potential darkness here, with revelations about what happened to Chicago and the world after the Red Court was destroyed and Harry died, Jim keeps it from being too heavy a subject by focusing on Ghost Harry and his activities, leaving a Chicago under siege as background to the story. Highlights include spirit Harry hanging out in Bob’s skull, a visit to Molly’s brain, and Uriel’s seven little words.

Cold Days, Book 14 of the Dresden Files

Harry’s first mission as the reluctant new Winter Knight! Great training scenes at Mab’s fortress Arctis Tor as Harry is not-so-gently nursed back to health by Mab. In this novel, Harry gains a deeper insight into the true work of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, and an eye-opening look at the ages-old battle being waged to keep the Outsiders from breaching the gates to the world.

But Harry’s battle is on ground dearer to him: his Sanctum, Demonreach, which he now discovers is actually a sort of high-security prison for all sorts of terrible creatures. Worse: someone is trying to break in, and the island’s defense mechanism is all set to blow Chicago and a large portion of the surrounding area to bits.

As if that’s not enough, he also has to figure out why his new boss has ordered him to kill her daughter, Maeve the Winter Lady. Is Mab really insane, or is there something else going on? In true fae fashion, Harry is kept going around in circles by both Summer and Winter, trying to dig through the layers of deceit and find the truth before the island explodes.

Highlights include quality time spent with old Mother’s Winter and Summer, and Harry’s interactions with Demonreach. Oh, and an adorable brotherly bonding scene between Harry and Thomas, who hadn’t seen each other since Harry had himself killed at the end of Changes.

Skin Game, Book 15 of the Dresden Files

My absolute favorite out of these five novels. In fact, my absolute favorite Dresden Files book, period. I’m a sucker for a good heist story, and it doesn’t get any better than an attempt to burgle the Lord of the Underworld himself, Hades. And in service to none other than Nicodemus Archleone himself, the centuries-old Denarian bonded to the fallen angel Anduriel, by order of Mab, the Winter Queen.

Of course, Mab has her reasons for loaning her hard-earned Winter Knight to a villain like Nicodemus, and Harry eventually figures out the story isn’t quite as straightforward as he thought, and that powerful forces are actually conspiring to give him the leverage he needs. The only question is, can Harry make it alive through the heist, successfully double-cross Nick at the end, and make it out in time before the parasite in his head is born? A parasite that he soon finds out is actually the brain-child of Lasciel’s departed shadow, Lash, and his own self. Yikes!

This book is just so much fun. Really, there’s nothing much to say except well done, Mr. Butcher. Oh, and lightsabers. And parkour! *happy sigh*

Interestingly, I finished my reread of Skin Game this week, and the same day I got a certain package from Worldbuilders. Nice timing!


Personal ranking from favorite to less favorite (because there ain’t no such thing as a bad Dresden novel!):

1- Skin Game

2- Ghost Story

3- Cold Days

4- Changes

5- Turn Coat

Personal top five secondary characters introduced (in addition to those mentioned in last installments):

1- Binder

2- Uriel (who has appeared before, but now gains momentum)

3- Goodman Grey

4- Mortimer Lindquist

5- Donar Vadderung aka Odin aka Santa Claus

And because this is the last segment of the Dresden Files Reread, here are my all time top five Harry Dresden novels:

1- Skin Game (light saber! Parkour!)

2- Ghost Story (Ghost Harry rocks. Or wails, or…something…)

3- Dead Beat (zombie t-rex!)

4- Fool Moon (because werewolves)

5- Blood Rites (bro power. And Puppy Mouse!)

The Dresden Files Reread: Books 6 – 10

And the Dresden Files reread continues… In the next five books of the series, Harry’s still snarking it up, collecting allies and enemies willy-nilly with no thought of self-preservation, dishing out punishment to anything that dares to cross the line in Chicago, and taking a fair beating himself, as usual.

The stakes slowly grow higher, the battles harder, and Harry’s personal life becomes more and more entangled with the war he’s chosen to wage against the dark of the night. But he’s still Harry, the wisecracking wizard we love, and I honestly think that this ability to bring a sense of humor and perspective to his dealings with the supernatural is what keeps Harry human above all things.

So the last installment brought the Denarians into the game… How on earth could Jim Butcher top that one? Maybe by bringing back the vampire courts in book 6, both Black and White? Yeah, I guess that’ll do the trick!






Blood Rites, Book 6 of The Dresden Files

Harry Dresden, Professional Wizard, is back, and this time he’s been hired by White Court vampire and sometimes ally Thomas Raith to discover who is aiming a killer entropy curse at the cast and crew of a porn film production. To further complicate matters, the Black Court of vampires is involved, and Harry plans to take vampire boss Mavra down for good.

This is our first proper introduction to the White Court, and brings the big reveal that Thomas and Harry are half-brothers, children of the same mother. Thomas is one of my favorite Dresden Files characters, so I definitely remember fist pumps of joy the first time I read this novel. It also gives us our first taste of Lara Raith, Thomas’ sister and, by the end of the book, de facto leader of the White Court. Oh, and one of the best villains/allies ever.

In Blood Rites Harry pretty much sacrifices his hand to protect himself and his friends, a sober reminder of the consequences of magic use. The novel ends with Thomas moving in with Harry and marking a whole new level of personal involvement for our hero.

Saving best for last – Mouse! Yes, the Tibetan temple dog that adopts Harry as a puppy in Blood Rites and eventually over the next few books becomes my favorite animal sidekick ever. Ok, maybe barring Robin Hobb’s Nighteyes. But close!

Dead Beat, Book 7 of the Dresden Files

Also known as the one with Butters and the zombie dinosaur.

That’s probably enough of an explanation as to why this is one of my favorite Dresden Files novels, right? This is totally Butters’ book. We’re introduced to the geeky, polka-loving medical examiner earlier in the series, but until now his role has been pretty minor, either as Harry and Murphy’s contact in the morgue, or as unofficial doctor for Harry and his friends.

This time Butters is right in the thick of things as he and Harry attempt to stop a group of rival necromancers from teaming up to complete a Halloween rite that will turn one of them into a minor god. Harry and a handful of White Council wizard Wardens have a zombie-fuelled fight on their hands, and Harry and Butters literally gallop to the rescue on a zombie dinosaur.

Seriously. Zombies, a t-rex, and polka. Only Jim Butcher could pull that one off!

Proven Guilty, Book 8 of the Dresden Files

Harry helps out Knight Michael Carpenter’s teenage daughter Molly when murders take place at the horror convention she’s working at. When she gets snatched and taken to Winter’s stronghold in the Nevernever, Harry teams up with Michael’s wife Charity, Thomas, and Murphy to storm Winter and recover Molly.

By then Harry’s discovered that Molly is in fact a wizard, and she’d already broken the laws of magic. He steps in and takes Molly on as his apprentice to save her from execution by the Council.

Highpoints in the book include getting to see an armor-plated, ass-kicking, war-hammer wielding Charity in all her motherly righteous fury. Oh, and Harry getting auctioned off on eBay by Thomas’ renegade cousin Madrigal. Because nothing beats getting sold off to the highest bidder out for your blood.

White Night, Book 9 of the Dresden Files

More revelations for Harry in this one when he finds out that Elaine, the orphan who was fostered with him as a teenager and was his first love, is still alive. Harry and Elaine work together to help a group of small-time magical practitioners from being targeted by White Court vampires. Along the way, they uncover a plot to take down House Raith, current leaders of the White Court.

The whole thing falls apart in the Raith Deeps, a huge cavern system under Lara’s lands, when Harry and Warden Carlos Ramirez, who we first meet in Dead Beat, challenge the two vampires responsible to a duel. All hell breaks loose, and even with an awesome mixed bag of allies that include his brother Thomas and mobster Marcone, Harry only survives because the shadow of the fallen angel Lasciel, who’s been camping out in his brain, steps in and sacrifices herself for him. Oh, and because of Lara Raith’s kiss that powers Harry’s getaway spell.

Small Favor, Book 10 of the Dresden Files

The book starts with Mab, Winter Queen of the Sidhe, calling in one of the favors Harry owes her. Mobster Johnny Marcone is missing, and she wants Harry to get him back. Harry finds out that the Denarians are behind the abduction, but when he sets up an official meeting, to be overseen by the 11-year-old Archive, he quickly finds out that what the Denarians really want is the Archive herself, and all the power she holds.

The Denarians set up an exchange on a secret, cursed island in the middle of the lake. Harry and his team manage to free Marcone and the Archive, although Michael Carpenter gets badly injured. At the hospital, Harry talks to archangel Uriel, who has gifted him with the ability to use soulfire.

All in all, this is a rather dark novel, although just as action-packed as usual. The capture and subsequent torture of Ivy the Archive is just heartbreaking, although I do understand that it prepares Harry’s mindset for later events in book 12, Changes. One of my personal highlights is the exchange with a janitorially-clad Uriel at the end.

Personal ranking from favorite to less favorite (because there ain’t no such thing as a bad Dresden novel!):

1- Dead Beat (seriously, zombie t-rex!)

2- Blood Rites

3- Proven Guilty

4- White Night

5- Small Favor

Personal top five secondary characters introduced (in addition to those mentioned in last installment):

1- Mouse!

2- Butters

3- Lara Raith

4- Carlos Ramirez

5- Molly Carpenter

The Dresden Files Reread: Books 1 – 5

The other day I found a Tumblr page that posts loads of Dresden Files quotes. Ever since I ‘met’ Harry Dresden back in 2012 I’ve been a big fan. I love Harry’s wry, often childish sense of humor, his daft comebacks to bad guys galore, his selfless heroism, his absolute lack of social graces, and his downright niceness. He’s one of my favorite characters, and I’m thrilled that Jim Butcher has kept Harry ticking this long. In fact, Jim has not only kept the series ticking but positively thriving, constantly beating himself at his own writing game and raising the bar each time just that little bit higher.

Anyhow, like I said, I found a Tumblr page. And soon I was looking up the quotes on my kindle, because I kept remembering great scenes and then had to read them over again. It didn’t help that I’d just ordered this awesome Dresden Files inspired t-shirt from the Worldbuilders charity*. Next thing I know, I’m pulling up book number 1 and diving into it again, ‘just to refresh my memory’.

By the time I hit book 3 I knew I was in full-on reread mode, and nothing was getting between me and all 15 Dresden Files novels. Now, I love the feeling you get when you’re about to dive into something new as much as the next fiendish reader. But, equally, there’s nothing quite like getting into something beloved and familiar. Rereads are tea and a chat with an old friend, they’re beer at the pub with that long-lost college roommate, they’re a stroll in the afternoon sunshine with the family dog. I may be losing the plot here a little, but you get my point, right? Or do I have to bring the dog into it again?

Anyhow, here’s my first installment, books 1–5. In my defense, I blame Tumblr.

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*(Please contribute to Worldbuilders by getting the official t-shirt, not a rip-off from somewhere else!)





Storm Front, Book 1 of The Dresden Files

This is our first glimpse of Harry Dresden, Professional Wizard. The only wizard who advertises his services in the phone book. As the intro novel, this is, inevitably, the lightest book in the series. But there’s just enough darkness lurking at the corners to give us a taste of things to come, with hints of Harry’s troubled teenage years as orphaned ward and apprentice of a dark wizard, and the Doom that hangs over him, threatening him with the death penalty if he steps out of line.

As Harry races against time to uncover the murderer behind a series of gruesome killings we are introduced to some of the recurring characters such as Lieutenant Karrin Murphy, Director of Special Investigations of the Chicago PD, mobster boss Gentleman Johnny Marcone, reporter Susan Rodriguez, and my favorite magical sidekick ever: Bob the skull. Among several others. In fact, I had forgotten that this first novel sets up so many building blocks for the series, with introductions to the White Council, the laws of magic and the fae world. It was certainly a lot more complex than I remembered, and all in all, a great kick-off for all the books to come.

Fool Moon, Book 2 of the Dresden Files

Fool Moon doesn’t just kick things up a notch, but blasts them into a whole other high-octane wavelength. Jim hands us the perfect werewolf thriller on a platter, but is he content with giving us one, run-of-the-mill werewolf? No. Oh, no. We have four types of werewolf in action here.

We have classic werewolves, humans who use a spell to transform into wolf shape, represented by college student Bill and his vigilante Alpha pack. We have hexenwolves, humans transformed into wolf form by outside magic, represented by a rogue group of FBI agents. We have lycanthropes, who channel spirits of rage, turning beast-like in their own heads without actually shape-shifting. Like Viking berserkers. This group is represented by the Streetwolves gang. And finally we have the loup-garou, closest to the monster-movie version of the werewolf. The loup-garou, in this case businessman Harley MacFinn, is the recipient of a curse that causes its victims to become a wolf like demon at full moon.

Oh, and then there’s MacFinn’s fiancée Tera, who turns out in the end to be a wolf in human form. A were-human, I guess?

So yes, a lot of wolves. And a deliciously twisty plot, full of red herrings and deceptions. This is my absolute favorite among the first five novels. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it also introduces the RPG-playing, pizza-loving, greatly geeky Alphas, one of Jim’s nicest minor character inventions so far.

Grave Peril, Book 3 of the Dresden Files

This novel introduces yet another great recurring character, Michael Carpenter, Knight of the Cross and bearer of Amoracchius, one of three mystical swords. Not only that, but we get our first look at Harry’s fairy godmother, the Leanansidhe, and of Thomas Raith, the White Court vampire.

With Grave Peril, Jim Butcher starts digging deeper into fae, vampire, and wizard politics, with the hunt for a demonic ghost nicknamed the Nightmare tangling with the start of an all-out war against the Red Court of vampires. In this novel, Harry is substantially weakened by an attack from the Nightmare, but true to form he never gives up, and keeps on going, refusing to admit defeat. This is one of Harry’s best traits; this dogged determination to do the right thing, no matter what.

Summer Knight, Book 4 of the Dresden Files

Leaving the vampires to one side for a moment, Harry is plunged into fae politics by taking on a case for none other that Mab, Winter Queen of the Sidhe. With a war looming between Summer and Winter that can hold big repercussions for the mortal world, Harry has a tight deadline in which to unravel all the complex threads of fae relations and motives and figure out who stole the mantle of power of the Summer Knight, where it’s being hidden, and why.

This book is a dive into the world of the fae queens and their courts, and as a bonus we get to see the Alphas in action again, along with a group of fairy changelings, and the wyldfae Toot-Toot and his gang of dewdrop fairies, whose unwavering loyalty Harry gained in the first novel with gifts of pizza. We also meet White Council member Ebenezar McCoy, the mentor who took the young Harry under his wing when he was under Council probation.

Death Masks, Book 5 of the Dresden Files

Book 5 pitches Harry against the Denarians, fallen angels attached to human hosts. In this, he has help from not only Michael but all three Knights of the Cross: Shiro, bearer of Fidelacchius and Sanya, bearer of Esperacchius. While Harry is busy chasing the stolen Shroud of Turin and attempting to stop the leader of the Denarians, Nicodemus, from setting off a plague curse that would kill thousands, he also has to prepare for his upcoming duel with Duke Ortega of the Red Court of vampires.

This novel introduces one of Harry’s creepiest adversaries so far, the Denarians. Not only are they horribly powerful and utterly evil, but the power they tempt Harry with is one he has to steel himself against or risk taking it up with the best intentions, only to fall with the rest of them. Bonus Gandalf-refusing-the-Ring quote.

Personal ranking from favorite to less favorite (because there ain’t no such thing as a bad Dresden novel!):

1- Fool Moon

2- Summer Knight

3- Death Masks

4- Storm Front

5- Grave Peril

Personal top five secondary characters introduced so far:

1- Bob the skull

2- Thomas Raith

3- Michael Carpenter

4- Billy and the Alphas

5- Ebenezar McCoy

Have Book, Will read #5

The little corner of Connecticut I call home has been swamped by a heat wave of the most horrid and muggiest sort. I’ve been cowering inside, hiding from the heat and the spider webs, which seem to have been blasted with some sort of magic-gro potion and appear to be intent on dominating the world. Or at least my garden.

The severe lack of sticking my nose outside means I’ve been catching up on my reading. It’s a relatively bug-free selection, so don’t worry, arachnophobes.

Recent Reads: Maps, ahoy!

There’s been a common theme of maps threading through my recent reads. First off was Stephen Palmer’s Beautiful Intelligence. The story is set in a distant future where world resources are dwindling, Europe and the USA are an economic wasteland, and everyone is connected to the nexus, a vast, sprawling interactive information web. In this setting, two teams of scientists race to become the first to create true artificial intelligence, while they try to stay a step ahead of the technology mogul who is hunting them down.

I was entranced by the different approaches to mapping out human intelligence and attempting to recreate it in machines. At the same time, the story is fast-paced and exciting as the teams are forced to constantly uproot their labs and move on to avoid leaving identifiable trails in the nexus. This was my first time reading Stephen’s work, and I was definitely impressed.

After that, I took a break to dive into some middle grade fiction. My current writing project is middle grade, and it was time to catch up on some of the best of 2014. First out of the gate was The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill. This is the tale of Ned, the son of a witch tasked with caring for the last magic left in the world. When bandits invade, Ned becomes the unwilling guardian of this magic, carrying voices and spells mapped out on his skin into the enchanted forest. There he meets the Bandit King’s daughter Áine, and together they struggle to avoid capture and save Ned’s land from war.

The Witch’s Boy is not only a charming tale, but beautifully written in prose that often flows like poetry.

The next book I picked up was The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove. I’d seen this compared to Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and it definitely has a similar feel. But at the same time, it also reminds me of a favorite of mine, Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist. After the Great Disruption of 1799, time broke apart, flinging countries, and sometimes whole continents, into different Ages. The protagonist Sophia lives in Boston, in the New Occident. The daughter of two explorers who have gone missing, she lives with her mapmaker uncle, Shadrack. After Shadrack is abducted by a faction seeking an important map, Sophia is forced to cross the border into the Baldlands, helped by pirates and a bandit boy.

For me, the maps were the true stars of this tale. And not just paper and ink maps, but maps on clay, water, metal…even onion maps. Besides the all-important glass map Sophia must keep from enemy hands. A fun read.

Next, I took a breather from middle grade fiction to read Inish Carraig by Jo Zebedee. I know Jo from an SFF forum we both belong to, and she’s a superb writer. You can read my review of her first novel, space opera Abendau’s Heir, here on the blog, and Jo was also a good sport and talked a little about the settings for Inish in my Spotlight series.

Inish Carraig is a post-alien-invasion thriller set in present day Northern Ireland. When Belfast teenager John Dray inadvertently helps release a compound that wipes out the alien invaders, he ends up in a high-tech prison run by the Galactic Council. Together with police officer Henry Carter, he uncovers a conspiracy that could mean the end of all humans. Now the race is on to get the word out and save the world.

Inish is one of those fast-and-furious reads, the sort of book you pick up for a look and only put down hours later with a satisfied sigh. One of Jo’s strengths is character building, and both John and Carter are a testimony to this. And yes, there are maps: John’s personal, visual mapping of the ruined streets of Belfast, as well as the maps of the prison itself, crucial to the plot.

Now Reading: Or hey, more maps!

I’m back in my middle grade list with The Map to Everywhere, by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis. When homeschooled adventurer Marrill stumbles upon the Pirate Stream in the middle of an Arizona parking lot, she gets swept up in a quest to find the map that controls the very Stream itself. This has pretty much everything a younger me would have wanted in a book: great characters, fabulous world building, pirates, adventure, and magic, lots and lots of magic. Because the Pirate Stream is literally liquid magic, and everything it touches is wonderful and mysterious, and sometimes downright scary.

I’m almost at the end of this, and I can say for sure that Carrie and John do a lovely job of introducing their madcap world without unnecessary explanations. The reader just slips into the Stream along with Marrill and her ship, the Enterprising Kraken, and is swept away. Perfect.

To Read: Probably involving more maps…

I still haven’t got around to The Last War by Alex Davis, which I mentioned last month, although that’s next up on my list. There are also new releases by Robin Hobb and Joe Abercrombie, and I’ve been carefully avoiding reading reviews and spoilers for both Fool’s Quest and Half a War, though all the tantalizing tweets and random facebook comments have been driving me nuts.

So many great books to read… I should probably take advantage of the last lingering bit of summer, with heat and spiders keeping me inside. After all, eventually the weather will cool down and I’m going to have to go outside and face the rampant garden weeds and webs. Perhaps I should take a map. After all, you never know to which labyrinth a spider’s weave will lead!