Book Review- “Skin Game”

 

 

skingame_lg I discovered Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series right around the release of the fifth book, “Death Masks,” in 2003. So I’ve been reading the series for over a decade now and while some entries have been better than others I’ve always been entertained. There hasn’t been an adventure of Chicago’s only Wizard for hire, Harry Dresden that I’ve not had fun with and that’s a big feat for a series that’s been around so long.

The usual plot recipe of a Dresden Files book is a blend of private detective fiction and fantasy that reads like an episode of Joss Whedon’s “Angel” series meets Harry Potter. So more often than not Harry Dresden is out investigating some strange mystery in Chicago that leads to an apocalyptic threat, but what makes the books so interesting is the character of Harry and the complex cast of enemies and allies that Butcher has built up around him over the years. So sure the weird and action packed mysteries are fun frosting, but the cake of the series and what keeps me coming back are the characters and the long term plot threads that Butcher has weaved around them.

From time to time those plots will pay off in big ways, but perhaps the biggest pay out was 2010′s “Changes,” which remains the high point of the series for me. Since then, there has been great moments that have added to the series and moved it along in new and interesting directions like 2012′s “Cold Days,” but I’m happy to report that the latest Dresden Files novel, “Skin Game” has some fantastic moments of character pay out   for long term fans of the series that add to the ongoing narratives and push the long term plot forward in interesting ways  (I’m not going to say what, but there are events in this book that I’ve been hoping to see for almost a decade) and a different and interesting plot that I’ don’t believe we’ve seen in this series. So for my money “Skin Game” is the best Dresden Files novel since “Changes.”

Like the other books in the series “Skin Game” is about the intersection between crime and the weird modern day fantasy world of2014.pm.jim.butcher Chicago, but instead of playing detective this time Harry is cast in a very different role, law breaker. That’s because in addition to being a wizard Harry also serves as the Winter Knight for Mab, the Faerie Queen of Winter, and at the beginning of the book she tasks Harry with assisting his old enemy the demonic Knight of Blackened Denarius, Nicodemus Archelone, in a heist. So “Skin Game” is part caper novel. We get to watch a heist crew come together and plot a robbery of a vault located in the mythical Greek underworld.  Also because Mab has forced Harry into working with Nicodemus “Skin Game” is  a con novel.  You get to watch Nicodemus and Harry plot and carry out subtle moves against each other as they work for an opportunity to destroy each other.

So “Skin Game” is an exciting and action packed novel, but as expected it’s also full of great characters. You get to spend time with some old favorites like former police detective Karrin Murphy, who Harry enlists to watch his back as the planning for the heist goes down. There’s also fun stuff with a group of other established characters, but I’m not going to spoil who they are. Their entry into “Skin Game” is a pretty fun reveal.

Nicodemus’ heist crew is also full of interesting characters both new and returning. I especially liked the team’s resident shape shifter Goodmen Grey, who makes his debut in this novel. And of course Nicodemus himself is also an interesting character. I hate his guts, but that’s the point. He’s a fantastic villain and I want to see him taken down.

On top of great characters, exciting action, and twisting double crosses you also get the pay off I mentioned earlier and it involves several occurring characters. I don’t want to say too much more about those moments except they come at the perfect time. The way Butcher set up and delivered those moments of payout had me cheering.

So if you’re a long time fan of the Dresden Files series you’ll love “Skin Game.” It’s a different kind of Harry Dresden story, which makes it fresh and exciting and it’s full of payoff moments that will leave you excited for the characters and their adventures to come.

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Blog Book Review: “Veronica Mars: An Original Mystery: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line”

 

I try to keep my book reviews spoiler free, but when you’re discussing a book that takes place after the events of a feature film that can be tough. So let’s get that out of the way right now. If you haven’t seen the “Veronica Mars” feature film stop reading this review right now and rectify that mistake. It’s really good and it’ s now available on both DVD and on demand services like Amazon Instant Watch. So go on! Shoo! Come back when you’re done.  You’ll be glad you did.

Okay, so everybody else left reading this has seen the movie and if you haven’t you’ve been warned. I loved the television show “Veronica Mars.” I loved it so much that I contributed $10 to the Kickstarter for the feature film (I would have contributed more but I didn’t have much to spare at the time). It was $10 well spent. I loved it. It was a love letter to the fans of the show and left the title character and her fictional hometown of Neptune, California in an interesting place. Veronica’s father had been almost killed investigating the rampant corruption in Neptune’s Sheriff Department. After being shot by Celeste Kane and framed for pulling a gun on her Eli “Weevil” Navarro seemingly returned to motorcycle gang leading ways. And Veronica had stopped fighting her destiny and decided  to take over the family business.

So that set up made me very excited to read the “Thousand Dollar Tan Line” even though it’s titleRob-Thomas-Veronica-Mars-Image-3 was a little underwhelming and suggested something more light hearted. I was also a little sad that the book wasn’t going to be told in classic first person style P.I. manner. I would have certainly bought the Kristen Bell read audio book if that was the case.  Those two things turned out to be minor drawbacks though because Veronica Mars first novel turned out to be just as fun and exciting as an episode of the show or another movie.

In “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line” spring break has come to Neptune. College co-eds and tourists are flocking to the Northern California town for wild, hedonistic bacchanalia and the Sheriff’s department is content to make the Chamber of Commerce happy and turn a blind eye to the wild displays of excess. When a pretty college co-ed disappears and a cable news pundit begins crucifying the town’s inept sheriff the Chamber of Commerce is forced to act. So they hire Veronica.

Veronica’s initial investigation leads her to a shady, mysterious party and then when things escalate and another girl disappears a shocking figure from her past walks back into her life. Veronica’s investigation puts her up against a number of interesting and formidable adversaries including two wealthy business men with connections to Mexican drug cartel and a person who just might be her opposite number.

jennifer-grahamDealing with these characters and the investigation of course means Veronica will interact with the members of her great supporting cast. Mac and Wallace remain her faithful confidants, and her dad Keith Mars tries to come to terms with what it means to have Veronica officially join him in the family business. Those were some of my favorite scenes Keith Mars is right up there with “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s” Ben Sisko as one of the greatest fictional single dads.

Logan plays a small role in the book because as the film established, he’s now in the Navy and he and Veronica are in a long distance relationship. As someone who is currently in a long distance relationship I especially appreciated those scenes. Authors  Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham really captured the excitement and anxiety of those moments where you’re waiting for your significant other to come online and brighten your day.

“The Thousand Dollar Tan Line” also involves a number of other returning characters, some that appeared in the movie and some that didn’t, and watching Veronica interact with them and the book’s new cast is a lot of fun. The novel is expertly paced, full of one great dialogue, and is a genuinely great and legitimate P.I./crime novel. I’m not surprised either while I’ve not read any of their previous work both Thomas (who created “Veronica Mars”) and Graham have published other books.

So if you’re a “Veronica Mars” fan do yourself a favor and pick up “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line.” It doesn’t really touch on some of the ongoing plot lines left over from the movie, but it’s a great return to Neptune and it’s fascinating cast of characters. Plus I have hope that those elements will come more into focus in a possible sequel to the film or the next “Veronica Mars” novel “Mr. Kiss and Tell” which is set to be released in October.

Categories: Book Review

Book Review- “Code Zero”

May 16, 2014 1 comment

Code Zero coverJonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series of novels are primarily high-stakes action thrillers that are spiced up by elements of science fiction and horror.  Those elements are always handled real well, but they’re not always the primary ingredient in the genre cocktail that the writer is blending. So I sometimes how forget how chilling and effective Maberry is when his primary genre is horror. The latest Joe Ledger novel “Code Zero” reminded me of how great a horror writer Maberry is, but still features all the kick-ass action and fascinating and identifiable characters that fans of the series have come to expect.

Part of the reason I consider “Code Zero” more of a horror novel than an action thriller is because of the nemesis opposing Joe Ledger and the men and women of the Department of Military Scientists in this book, a genius high tech terrorist named Mother Night who has a connection to the DMS and whose motivation was best described by Michael Caine in “The Dark Knight” when he said, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” So essentially Joe and the DMS are up against their version of the Joker and the gleeful carnage and mayhem she causes is pretty chilling.

Another reason “Code Zero” is pretty horrific is because Mother Night is not alone. She’s in command of an army of followers most of them mentally ill and societal outcasts and early on she dispatches them to commit terrorist attacks.  We get several chapters of these attacks and they’re highly effective and quite frightening. You feel the violence and terror Mother Night’s followers are causing. Surprisingly I also felt a little bit of sympathy for some of Mother Night’s followers as well because many of them were alone and struggling with the difficulties of life when they were found by Mother Night. It felt like Maberry was effectively and rightfully pointing out that when we reject and ostracize people instead of trying to help them there’s a real danger that they could be exploited by someone with sinister motives.

Then the final reason “Code Zero” feels like a horror novel to me is the tools Mother Night and her followers use to spread terror; the bio-weapons250px-JonathanMaberry that Ledger and the DMS confiscated in the previous installments of the series, which means the zombie virus, the genetically engineered Berserker super soldiers, and the weaponized plagues of the Ten Kings are all back. Under Mother Night’s command these weapons are used to create some chilling, gruesome and yes twistedly fun scenarios. The mayhem of the book’s final battle felt on par with the chaos and carnage caused in some of the final chapters of “Bad Moon Rising,” the concluding volume in Maberry’s epic horror trilogy about the town of Pine Deep.

So Mother Night is probably the toughest foe the DMS has faced yet, which means we get some great character moments in “Code Zero.” Joe Ledger remains as fascinating and fun as ever but here we get to see him struggling with the carnage caused by Mother Night, what fighting back against her is doing to his already scarred psyche, and trying to hold on to the one bright spot of happiness in his personal life.

We also get great moments with the members of Echo Team, which gets three intriguing new team members, and Mister Church. Plus the DMS support staff get some time to shine in “Code Zero” as well. Bug, their lead computer expert, in particular is given some fun and cool moments.

The moments where Echo Team are in action crackle as usual, but as I mentioned there’s a lot of horrific action in “Code Zero” as well especially in the scenes where Echo Team have to deal with outbreaks of the Seif Al Din virus that transforms innocent people into flesh hungry zombies.

So for me “Code Zero” was a different, but still incredibly fun Joe Ledger novel. It was a tale of psychological and techno horror, but it was also a high stakes tale of desperate heroes. Imagine the conflict, stakes, and tone of the film “The Dark Knight” played out on a national level and featuring valiant and identifiable Spec Op Warfare heroes that are battling to stop a zombie Armageddon from happening. Yes “Code Zero” is as fun as it sounds.

 

Categories: Book Review

Quick Book Review- Deathwatch by Steve Parker

February 12, 2014 Leave a comment

 

I’m still relatively new to the world of Warhammer 40K fiction. I’ve gotten to know the Inquisition thanks to Dan Abnett’s novels. I’ve also done a bit of adventuring with the Imperial Guard via Sandy Mitchell’s first Ciaphas Caine omnibus. I really loved those books.

Deathwatch is my first Space Marines novel and I really did enjoy it. The characters of Talon Squad were the highlights of the book. I really enjoyed getting to know them and watching them bond via Deathwatch training and their actual mission. The book’s weakness was that it was a dual narrative that focused on the Inquisition from time to time and it tended to slow things down. The characters and action there were not as interesting. Plus the nature of Talon Squad’s mission was a little predictable.

All in all though this was a fun novel with character you cared about and some great action especiallySteveParkerBW when the protagonist Karas, a Psyker Space Marine got to cut loose with his powers. I hope Mr. Parker gets a chance to tell another novel length adventure featuring Talon Squad.

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Book Review- “The Gods of Guilt”

January 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Gods of GuiltIn 2005 I was a huge fan of Michael Connelly’s police procedurals starring LAPD detective Harry Bosch. So I begrudgingly let the writer introduce me to a new protagonist, defense attorney Michael “Mickey” Haller, even though court room thrillers were not really my thing. I ended up liking the “Lincoln Lawyer” (the book where Mickey was introduced) though. I also enjoyed Mickey’s return appearances in the novels “The Brass Verdict” [2008], “The Reversal” [2010], and “The Fifth Witness” [2011]. It’s been a couple years since we’ve seen Mickey though and I didn’t realize how much I missed him until I read Connelly’s latest book “The Gods of Guilt” which is hands down the best novel in the Lincoln Lawyer series and one of the best novels he’s ever written.

When we last saw Mickey in “The Fifth Witness” it looked like he was going to turn over a new leaf and run for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. When we meet him in “The Gods of Guilt” though he’s still a defense attorney. We don’t find immediately find out why, but when we do it’s a pretty shocking reveal and it’s clear that Haller is a haunted and damaged man. It’s fascinating watching him deal with that damage and try to come to terms with who he is and what he does, and of course it’s also fascinating to watch him do what he does best. So “The Gods of Guilt” is a great character study of a deeply flawed, but cunning and brilliant lawyer who has to beat both his personal demons and the evidence that’s stacked against his client.

Mickey isn’t the only great character in “The Gods of Guilt.” We also get to spend some time with some great familiar characters like his imposing investigator Cisco, and his loyal driver Earl, but we also meet some interesting new new faces like young lawyer Jennifer Aronson, the newest recruit to the Michael Haller and Associates Law Firm. The antagonists of the novel, once they reveal themselves, are also quite interesting. They’re believeable and and fun to watch in love to hate them sort of way.

The case Mickey and his colleagues are up against is a labyrinthine and twisting mystery with personal stakes. That’s because a former client of Mickey’s, a prostitute he believe he helped quit the life, is dead and the Lincoln Lawyer must help acquit the man accused of her murder.

Mickey’s quest to clear his client’s name leads to an investigation with a ton of exciting twists and turns. The pacing of “The Gods ofGuilt”is phenomenal. There’s never a dull moment. Even the time jumps are handled perfectly. During those moments you’re left wondering what happened in those gaps and then you slowly find out in exciting, shocking, and poignant ways that reveal the kind of toll a murder trial can have on the accused and his defense team.

The court room scenes are also incredibly riveting. When you hit the portion of the novel where Haller actually mounts his defense of his client I guarantee you’ll be tempted to read that portion of the novel in one sitting. I did! When a chapter break came I had to pause and catch my breath. I was that invested in the story!

So if you’re a fan of Michael Connelly’s writing, crime novels, or court room thrillers do yourself a favor and read “The Gods of Guilt.” It’s a fantastic novel that once again cements Michael Connelly’s reputation as one of the best crime writers in the business.

Categories: Book Review

Book Review- “The Cuckoo’s Calling”

September 2, 2013 Leave a comment

jk-rowling-the-cuckoos-callingYears and years ago, a friend introduced me to the Harry Potter series and as we were listening to the first three books on audio (this was before “Goblet of Fire” had been released) I was struck by a few things: the quality of the characters and the world, and the fact that each of the books was a mystery. Subsequent books in the series further demonstrated author J.K. Rowling’s knack for telling mystery tales. So I thought it would be pretty cool to see what she could do with an adult crime/mystery novel.

When the news broke that she had indeed written one under the psuedonym of Robert Galbraith I was excited, what made the announcement even cooler was the fact that the description of the book, “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” made it sound like something I was going to read anyway. It was a P.I. novel and I’m a sucker for a good P.I. novel. Now having finished it I’m happy to report the book wasn’t just a good P.I. novel, it was a great one.

Of course the heart of any good Private Detective novel is it’s protagonist and with “The Cuckoo’s Calling” Rowling/Galbraith gives an interesting protagonist that you can root for in Cormoran Strike. When we meet Strike he’s haunted by several things. The first is the leg he lost while investigating a crime as a military police man in Afghanistan. The second is the dissolution of his relationship with his temperamental fiance Charlotte, and the third is the home he lost by ending things with her. On top of that his interactions with the world are also colored by the different and sometimes traumatic experiences he endured growing up with his mother. Those experience are part of some interesting character reveals later in the book though and I don’t want to spoil them.

So Strike is good hearted but emotionally battered and down on his luck when we first meet him. Our first meeting with him comes when he literally bumps into a character I really didn’t think I’d like very much, Robin, a temp worker assigned to be Strike’s secretary for a couple of weeks. At first Robin doesn’t seem like she belongs in a crime novel. It’s almost like she stepped out of a romantic comedy. She turns out to be a charismatic, caring, and capable secretary though. So by the end of the novel I was won over and enjoying Robin’s appearances; especially her interactions with her boss.

Robin comes into Strike’s life right as a gigantic case falls into his lap; A lawyer named John Bristow wants Strike to investigate the death??????????????????????????? of his sister a world famous supermodel named Lula Landry. Landry, who was hounded by paparazzi everywhere she went in London, died months earlier in a fall from the balcony of her flat. The police ruled that she jumped, but John Bristow believes that his sister was pushed and he wants Strike to find out the truth.

Strike takes the case and his investigation plunges him into the decadent, deceitful, and even dangerous world of the ultra wealthy. It also gives Rowling/Galbraith the chance to show off her flair for crafting interesting and believable characters like Landry’s family, a designer grieving her death, her drug addicted boy friend, her best friend and fellow supermodel, and an enigmatic and non-wealthy girl she met in counseling.

The most interesting character we meet and get to know though is Strike himself. Like I said earlier when we first met him he’s suffered quite a bit and he’s barely dealing with it. So watching him struggle with his woes and struggling to find justice for a woman who might have been murdered is fun. You get to cheer him on.

The insights into Strike and his investigation don’t come via the usual first person narration found in private detective novels, but that’s okay. Rowling’s prose is exciting and we still get enough of Strike’s perspective and some times we get Robin’s perspective as well.

In terms of pacing “The Cuckoo’s Calling” starts off a little slow as you wade into the investigation of Landry’s death with Strike. Once the investigation heats up though the book takes off like a rocket. It really was a struggle to put down at points, especially near the end. Best of it all, the ending suggests that Rowling/Galbraith has more plans for Cormoran Strike and I can’t wait to see what they are

So, “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” J.K. Rowling (A.K.A. Rober Galbraith)’s first detective novel was a hell of a read. It was as much fan and intriguing as I hoped it would be. If you want to see what Harry Potter’s creator can do with a real world, grounded mystery or are just craving a great detective novel pick it up.

Categories: Book Review

Book Review- “Point & Shoot”

PointShootHEY YOU! Are you looking for something cool to read? Well have I got some good news for you! I just finished reading Duane Swierczynski’s latest novel “Point & Shoot” and I loved it. It’s like a carefully crafted cocktail of the best elements from 70′s and 80s action films, classic conspiracy stories like “The X-Files” and “The Parallax View,” and the awesome mind bending trippy twists of the films of writer/director Duncan Jones. Sound good? Great because now I have even better news. “Point & Shoot” is the concluding volume in a trilogy of novels starring police consultant, turned house sitter, turned target of a shadowy conspiracy Charlie “Unkillable Chuck” Hardie. So if you haven’t read the first book in the “Fun & Games” go do so now. Don’t worry we’ll wait.

Okay. You’re back. That was fun wasn’t it. How’d you like the ending? Don’t worry it’s picked up in book two of the series “Hell & Gone.” You should really go read that too. It’s cool, we’ll wait.

See what I mean? Wasn’t that cool? Okay now that you’re caught up I can elaborate on my thoughts on “Point & Shoot” because I try to keep my reviews spoiler free, but I don’t think we can talk about this novel without understanding the context of the other two and what they’ve done to Charlie Hardie. So that being said you have been warned. THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR “FUN & GAMES” AND “HELL & GONE.”

“Fun & Games” and “Hell & Gone” came out within a few months of each other and “Point & Shoot” was supposed to follow shortly after, but because the life of a professional writer can become very complicated and some stories demand extra care readers had to wait an extra year for “Point & Shoot,” but as I indicated above the wait was worth it.

“Point & Shoot” picks up right where the agonizing cliff hanger of “Hell & Gone” left us with Charlie Hardie trapped in space aboard a satellite and forced to do the bidding of his enemies, the shadowy conspiracy known as the Cabal, in the hope that they’ll leave his ex-wife and son alone. Swierczynski makes you feel Hardie’s loneliness right away.

Then suddenly someone is knocking on the door of Hardie’s satellite. I can’t say much about Charlie’s rescuer without spoiling some fun and very swierczynskicool reveals. What I can say though is this is where a large part of the novel’s fun and trippy head twists come from. The first quarter of the book is almost a psychedelic sci-fi movie as you watch Hardie and his would be rescuer interact.

What goes up must come down though, and in the second quarter of the book that’s the satellite that Hardie and his rescuer were on. Once the Satellite crash lands “Point & Shoot” transforms into another fun genre that Swierczynski expertly handles, the buddy action pic and road movie combo. Imagine a blending of “Midnight Run” and conspiracy films and you’ll get an idea of the fun of this sequence.

Hardie and his rescuer are on a cross country trip to save Hardie’s family from the Cabal and their foot soldiers, the assassin army known as the Accident People. So the final half of “Fun & Games” is a bloody, action packed thriller as Hardie and his rescuer battle some old enemies in an attempt to save his family.

Those old enemies include Mann, the one-eyed Assistant Director of an Accident People cell that Charlie first matched wits with back in “Fun & Games.” She’s as delightfully evil as she was in that book and in “Point & Shoot” we get to see how she’s haunted by her failures with Charlie in the first book. We also to catch up with Factboy, Mann’s amusing information specialist and Abrams and Doyle the remaining heads of the Cabal, both of whom have physical and mental scars from their battles with Hardie in previous books.

Old friends come back as well like Hardie’s FBI contact Deacon Clarke. In the second half of “Point & Shoot” we get to see some scenes from his perspective and get to appreciate how competent and resourceful he is. Plus we get more with Hardie’s ex-wife Kendra and more with his son CJ. Both are interesting characters. And of course Charlie Hardie himself remains a fascinating and fun character especially in light of all that’s happened to him.

So with old enemies and old friends coming back, and events escalating, it feels like everything is coming full circle in “Point & Shoot. With “Fun & Games” and “Hell & Gone” the writer built a fun and exciting trilogy with an amazing character. And in “Point & Shoot” the writer brings that trilogy to a hell of close.

Categories: Book Review
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