The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter – Rod Duncan


Rod Duncan’s created a world known, incorrectly, as ‘The Gas-lit Empire.’  Part of what makes Duncan’s alternate history complete is the complexity of it including scattered inaccuracies through its revolutions, wars, offices, and political systems.  The Anglo-Scottish Republic is mashed up against The Kingdom of England and Southern Wales splitting at Leicester. The flaws and benefits of both societies are uniquely viewed by Elizabeth Barnabus, daughter of a Bullet Catcher, fugitive, Intelligence Gatherer, and main character.  While I am entranced by Duncan’s world, the core of this book is a mystery.  Elizabeth, resident of ‘The Republic’, takes a job to find a missing Aristocrat.  An invention of his, and scientific leanings, make him dangerous.  He is wanted by many, not the least by ‘The Patent Office.’  Elizabeth is uniquely qualified for the task, but if she had any option she would not/should not take it.

Elizabeth is resourceful and intelligent.  That does not mean her life is easy.  She found a way to survive as a 14-year-old girl, alone, without money, in a new land.  This is not an easy task in ‘The Republic’ where women can not own property.  She relies heavily on skills her parents taught her.  As the daughter of a Bullet Catcher, and child of Traveling Shows, she has relied heavily on illusion to survive.  Her parents conjured a twin brother for her as a child.  He plays heavily into how Elizabeth is able contract work, and procure her houseboat.   The book includes excerpts from The Bullet Catchers Handbook at the beginning of every chapter. They are lessons of illusion that pertain to the chapter, but also to Elizabeth’s past and future.  It helps the reader connect to the larger story.  The book is centered on her work as an Intelligence Gatherer searching for a missing Aristocrat from the Kingdom, but taking work in The Kingdom is risky for her.  As a fugitive, she can not be caught in its borders.  This contract also brings danger by drawing the scrutiny of The Patent Office.  Elizabeth does not need anyone inspecting her closely.  What she does need is the promised money – badly.

The political system Duncan created is a backdrop to this book.  It is integral, however, to the greater story of the series hinted at in the expanded title, ‘The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter: The Fall of The Gas-lit Empire.’  The ideologies of the Kingdom and Republic don’t seamlessly match their cultures.  The Republic has strict social standards, very conservative and monotone, contradictory to its democratic political freedoms.  The Kingdom isn’t a true monarchy, but the Council of Aristocrats hold to the political structure of Old England.  While there is a great deal of unfairness swayed heavily in favor of those Aristocrats, women have more rights than those in ‘The Republic’. Duncan’s alternative history has several parallels to historical Victorian democracies and monarchies of our world.  Some ideas Duncan acted on, such as a world where Scotland split from the United Kingdom,  were wished for by various parties but did not come to fruition.  His world is well-built.  It gave me a deeper level of respect for the book and author. Take some time looking at it, including reading the glossary.  You can see there are many words, offices, treaties, etc. that are unique.  I usually skip glossaries.  Honestly, I’m too lazy to read them, and you can usually infer the meanings/content from the writing. You can do that here too, but I appreciated the material included.

The book can be enjoyed on two levels.  You can read or listen to it on a shallow level.  I do not say this dismissively.  I’ve enjoyed several stories wanting to only pay attention to the surface.  This story can be enjoyed on a deeper level too.  The political structures, the history Duncan created, and the detail of the illusions make this story much more than the intelligence job.   I liked Elizabeth going undercover to find the Aristocrat and the twists that individual story holds, but Elizabeth’s own history and what is intimated for the future made me pick up the second book without pause.

Boneshaker – Cherie Priest (Clockwork Century#1)


Some books are fun and some are refined works of art.  This is fun.  It is dystopian historical revisionism of the civil war with steampunk airships, zombies, and a mom coming for her son.  I listened to the audio version of the book narrated by Will Wheaton and Kate Reading.  I’m not 100% sure it’s fine lit, but it was performed well and I enjoyed it.  I did not read any portion of it and can not compare the experience. This may have altered my perception of the book for the good – Wheaton and Reading can do a lot for any book.

Briar Wilkes is defined by being the daughter of Maynard – a dead symbol of law, and wife of Leviticus Blue – the man who devastated Seattle.  His invention, the Boneshaker, brought the blight that contaminated a city’s population.  To breathe it in transforms a person into living dead.  This story starts years after Seattle has been sealed off. She lives outside the tainted city, protected by the walls, raising her teenage son Ezekial.  With her reputation she was lucky to get a job at the Industrial Plant.  They barely get by.  She isn’t the mother she wishes she could be, working all the time, and her son runs with a criminal element that respects the Maynard blood in his veins.  Ezekial sneaks into the Seattle. He wants to prove his dad is the victim of slander, but at sixteen the rumors of what lies behind the walls is nothing compared to what he finds.  Briar figures out what he has done.  She regrets not telling him of her past and his origins, but she doesn’t have time for lamentations.  So, she picks up her gun, and enters the city with the help of those who respect Maynard’s law.

More than a coming of age story for Briar’s son, Ezekial, this is a story of Briar.  Who she was and is have been determined by her fathers and husbands decisions.  This is not strange for a woman of civil war times.  She rejected her position as the daughter of a lawman she viewed as a tyrant, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t take the skills he taught her with her.  In reaction she turned to a man of learning, an inventor, but his decisions confined her son, her, and the Northwest to disaster.  She accepted the burden and guilt placed upon her.  This story shows her taking control of her life outside how others see her.  In tracking her son she enters the city.  It is dangerous, close to lawless, and free of societal expectations.  She becomes her own person and her son gets to see his mother as strong and capable.

The world building could be better developed.  I appreciate detail and would have liked more description of the cities warren of tunnels. Being historical revisionism Priest could have delved much further into the war.  It was secondary to the story of Seattle, little more than a backdrop, but there are good bones here.  It is a series and I hope the second book fleshes out the blighted Seattle, and why Priest decided to place it in the U.S civil war.  I understand that adding zombies and steampunk machinery may seem a bit much.   It sounds like it is catering to every current trend, but I believe Priest was able to tie it together.  In a first book you need to establish the story and include enough action to hook an audience.  Priest does that.  There is so much potential.    To really be able to claim this as steampunk or revisionism there will have to be stronger science and historical elements in the second book.  I’m hoping she does it.

I recommend you listen to the audio version of this.  In seeing reviews by others I respect, who read it, I had a better experience.

The Flux – Ferret Steinmetz (Mancer 2)

Steinmetz second book in the Mancer Series is perfectly enjoyable.  Valentine, Aaliyah, and Paul come back to us.  Paul Tsabo, the world’s most unlikeliest hero, takes us through the fine back alleyways between right and wrong, mancer’s vs. mundanes, faith vs. antagonism.  How nice it would be if the world was black and white.  Instead it is many murky shades of grey where the meek become powerful.  Mancer’s are created from intense passion.  Intense passion, obsession, is usually is born of loss and sadness.  So, the world is left in the hands of Paul, a lanky man of Greek heritage missing a foot who is a bureaucromancer; Valentine, an overweight/voluptuous twenty-something female videogamemancer; and Aaliyah, Paul’s baydly burned, mixed race, nine year-old daughter.  If the bookiemancer we meet in this book were to place a bet on these three I doubt it would be in their favor.

Paul Tsabo is in charge of the New York police force hunting mancer’s.  Who would be better for the job than the only mundane man to take one down?  Well, its complicated, Paul isn’t mundane is he? He’s carefully hidden his bureaucramancy. He is legitimately trying to find other mancer’s, but he doesn’t have any intention of capturing them if they are not a threat.  Paul hopes to find others like him, Valentine, and his daughter.

Paul’s second job is brewing the drug Flex for a criminal entity.  Unfortunately, his first job and his daughter keep getting in the way -resulting in him owing larger and larger sums to his Oscar.  K-Dash and Quaysean are Oscar’s employees tasked with supporting Paul.  Paul has amazing talent and skill but no one – not his daughter, not Valentine, not Oscar, or some other characters we meet, have any faith that Paul can/will protect himself.  His faith in his fellow man, mancer or mundane, leaves him at risk.  So, their attempts to protect him, while sometimes positive, usually result in highly dysfunctional trainwrecks.

While brewing Flex, his daughter steps in to protect her daddy when his own police force tracks him to his laboratory.  He might have been able to compensate for one variable but both result in the total loss of the Flex, millions of dollars he will now owe Oscar, and the loss of his job with the police.  The usual upbeat Paul is forced to slink back on his belly to Samaritan Mutual, the Insurance Company, he used to work for.  The information he will find working there about the King of New York, a Police Informant whose always one step ahead of him, and about other mancers in New York takes his life in very unexpected directions.  Paul and Valentine are forced to suffer terrible indignities in the name of doing what appears to be best for Aaliyah in this book.  Eventually, we learn all that looks righteous and good isn’t and entities that appear criminal and wrong aren’t either.  I told you this book was murky and grey.

We did meet some new mancers in this book. I wasn’t particularly fond of some of them. I get that Steinmetz mancy is based off of obsession but I had a hard time with the plushomancer. Everything about that just seems downright wrong.

A wonderful component of Steinmetz’ Mancer series is the complex characters. They are flawed well-intentioned underdogs.  Most books present their heroes as fit ideals.  They are the epitome of what society says is desirable – wealthy, attractive, and clever.  Things come to them easy.  We rarely know how they learned their skill set.  They just intuit how to use a sword, naturally lead through charisma, and save the day with their unwavering confidence they are right.  They have crisis of faith and challenges, but they start the game with advantages.  Steinmetz characters aren’t like that.  You only have to look at Valentine to see this.  She turned to gaming because it offered her an escape from her life.  The obsession became magic, but that magic came with Flux/backlash.  She can’t care about anyone because they die.  She lives in her car – her magic getting her evicted regularly.  She has sex with random people met online because it’s the only way she can connect with someone without fear of the Flux taking them.  She eats horribly, but hell carbohydrates make you feel good and in the midst of so much terrible in life a girl should get to have carbohydrates if nothing else.  While this book has focus on Aaliyah; what Paul, Valentine, and her mother believes are the right things for her; there is also added focus on Valentine.  I enjoyed this insight.  K-Dash and Quaysean’s characters are also developed.  They are two of my favorite supporting characters in a book.  For gangsters, who can wreak a high level of havoc and pain, they are kind loving men.  This book stands on its story, writing, and characters, but it also presents diversity in an intelligent realistic way.

I read and listened to the audio version of this book. Peter Brooke narrates the series.  He does a wonderful job.  He grasped Steinmetz humor.  He also handled the range of emotion and characters well.  This is definitely a book you can enjoy listening to.  Fair warning:  you might laugh out loud.  So, if you are at work listening to this, potentially in violation of work policy, be aware.

It’s clear I enjoyed this book and respect Steinmetz.  I encourage you to read/listen to it.  It’s geared to a fantasy audience, but I will say it should appeal to comic book lovers and dystopian fans too.

I received this from Netgalley and Angry Robot in return for an honest review.

Written in Red – Anne Bishop

cs759 escaped.  Her flight lands her at Lakeside Courtyard inside Other territory.  It’s the safest place she might find.  The Courtyard is not subject to human law and may be able to keep her away from The Controller’s “benevolent ownership.”  She entered Howling Good Reads in the middle of a snow storm – hypothermic.  She is fed out of  basic kindness.  Knowing she needs to stay, she asks for a job.  The Others decision to make her Human Liaison is to avoid giving it to the distrusted human campaigning for it. She is the best option because she is the only other option. cs759 names herself Meg Corbyn.  Bishop’s story about her is addictive.  I do think it might be crack.  I read through the first three books, one after another, without break.  I’d read the fourth but it’s not available yet.

Bishop’s world is separated into land governed by The Others and Human’s, but human’s are not generally in control.  They are clever meat. Their value lies in what they create – their technology and devices of use.  Other’s are Shifters, Elementals, and Sanguinatti connected to the majority of land. Human land, that is theirs solely, lies  where their species orginated, but they have outgrown it.  They bleed over into Other territory.  This happen at Other’s allowance.  It should never be forgotten that it is not theirs.  They are renters, interlopers, tolerated only as long as they are useful.

Meg changes the dynamics in Lakeside.  The relationships she builds with Elementals, Shifters, and the Sanguinatti is something new.  It changes the way they see humans – that they can be more than useful or edible. This is something to protect, and a small group of humans on the police force realize this.  They see her as their best chance at survival.   A portion of humans resent Others, those who don’t live close enough to them to respect the danger the can invoke, and eventually/inevitably someone will make a mistake.   They hope Meg’s influence can protect them from being decimated.  Unfortunately, the human’s seeking Meg could easily be the ones to endanger them all.

Meg is Cassandra Sangue, a human seer.  They speak prophecy when they bleed.  Meg and her like have been committed to organizations, originally for their protection, becoming ‘benevolent ownership. ‘  Cutting creates a euphoria that develops into an addiction, causing themselves harm, requiring others to intercede.   Benevolent care transformed into exploitation over time.  The cut on their skin gives the observer to prophecy invaluable knowledge – an expensive commodity.  Meg’s escape brings powerful desire for her capture.   Many seek her for personal gain.

I listened to a portion of the audible book and found I preferred to read the book.  I didn’t find the maturity I was looking for in the voice of Alexandra Harris’s narration.  Meg is a young woman, and naive in many ways.  I understand why Harris’s was chosen and why she interpreted Meg the way she did.

Bishop’s Thasia isn’t a new piece of world building.  The Others aren’t unique.  She populates her book with Shifters, Vampires, and Elemental’s.  Recognizing this, I questioned why I am so attached to the book. Why it feels so comfortable?  While it’s not original, the world is a solid combination of familiar ideas and it also has developed/complete characters.   Her world feels natural and the threats realistic.  It’s compelling, well-written, and built with smart/complex characters.

I recommend this.  It is addictive – read at your own risk.

Time’s Divide – Rysa Walker (Chronos Files#3)

‘The Chronos Files’ is Walker’s time travel series.  Historians from the future, trained by Chronos, to go back in time to observe.  One person, however, deviates from plan causing a handfull of them to get stuck in their last assignment.  The Revisionist changes key events, creates a religion, and starts a movement causing the entire timeline to shift.  No one can return to Chronos or their time.  Kate’s Grandmother, an eccentric woman she knows little about except her mother hates her, requested she live with her for the summer.  She’s not inclined to, but her college will be paid for if she agrees.  It has a classic leaning, except canon wouldn’t accept a grandmother who technically isn’t born yet.  Kate’s grandmother needs her to fix the past so she can be born.  What I’ve described is the basis of Walker’s trilogy.  The Young Adult time travel series is solid, and complex, enough most people should enjoy it.  There is a love triangle, more or less – it depends on what timeline your in – but it’s handled well.  Walker uses detailed/discriminating theory for her basis of time travel and sticks with it.  People who get frustrated at lengthy scientific explanations shouldn’t be overwhelmed.  Those who need the philosophy to hold up to basic scrutiny will be content.  Walker struck a delicate balance.  Book three, ‘Time’s Divide,’ has twists.  In it she ends her trilogy with Kate being forced to travel to the future despite fears and warnings.

The Cyrists, a religion, has infiltrated governments, law enforcement, and society.  It was created by Brother Saul with help from Sister Prudence.  Saul’s roots are several centuries in the future.  He claims to want to fix the mistakes of the past for a better future, but his motivations are questionable.  The only thing truly evident is he will use any method, or person, to achieve his ends.  He destroyed the future Kate’s grandmother knew.  Kate is trying to fix it with the limited tools, Chronos Keys and Diaries, her grandmother brought with her on assignment.  Keys combined with specific genetics allow a person to travel in time.  The combination is rare.  Kate is her grandmothers last hope at tracking down the remaining unaccounted for Keys.  She is tasked to keep them out of Cyrist hands, and fix the timeline.  Every step forward shifts reality.  Shifts cause confusion, physical pain, and losses.  The last two books dealt with specific events in history, the Chicago World’s Fair, when JFK was shot, etc. Ultimately, in ‘Time’s Divide’ Kate has to infiltrate the Cyrists and travel into the future.  The problem with this is it is an unknown.  Saul’s actions may have destroyed it leaving a void.  She has nothing to research and nothing she can rely on.

Kate Rudd narrated the audio version I listened to, and she does will with it.  She is consistent in her character interpretation and differentiation.  I prefer to listen to this series rather than read it, but you should like it either way.

I enjoyed The Chronos Files trilogy and Kate’s travels to the past.  Walker wrapped up the story well.  She did leave herself an opening to continue but this is supposed to be the last book.  We’ll see.  Since I have more fascination with history than the future this was not my favorite of the series, but it was good.  Walker delivered on her large cliffhanger from the second book.  I think she could have done more with it, but she had an awful lot to complete in this book.  If you are looking for a quick read, small history lessons, well executed concepts of time travel, and action I recommend the series for you.

A Lovely Way to Burn – Louise Welsh

This is an interesting mix between a Plague story and a murder mystery.  Set in London, people are getting sick with what has been dubbed ‘The Sweats.’  People respond with a mix of paranoia and apathy.  You will always have the group that raids the grocery stores for food and water.  You will also have the group who stay at work believing the panic to be nothing more than a craze.  There is also the set that will camp out at the pub reveling in the fact that maybe the bar owner died but that just means you won’t have to pay your tab.  This all happens in ‘A Lovely Way to Burn’ but its a backdrop.  Stevie is young, beautiful, and works as a  Shopping Network Presenter.  She is the person who gets equally wildly excited about selling you Christmas Lights, a cookware set, or jewelry.  Her initial desire was to become a journalist but she fell into this job and got really comfortable.  When her handsome, materialistic, doctor boyfriend doesn’t return her phone calls she decides he’s moved on.  She works herself up to a tizzy, goes to pick up her stuff, and finds him dead in his bed.  At first she believes it was ‘The Sweats,’ everyone is getting it, but then his co-workers, and the family she never met, ask if it could be suicide.  She’d only been dating him for a few months so she doesn’t really know.  Then she finds he left her his computer with strict instructions it can only be given to one person, the only doctor he trusted.  With this new info his cause of death becomes questionable.

Amongst people dying of a genuine plague Stevie sets out on the mystery of what happened to her boyfriend.  Stevie is immune.  She got sick but is one of the few who got better.  What does she decide to do with her immunity?  Does she help people to find a cure?  Does she seek safety to ride this illness out? No.  Stevie takes foolish risks driving around London with no thought to finding food, shelter, or rationing gas.  This fairly shallow character decides amongst a dying city she is going to find out what happened to her boyfriend.  Is it because she loved him and is heartbroken?  Is it because she believes in what he was doing?  No.  Stevie knows very little about the man she was dating.  She knew he liked fancy restaurants, nice cars, and they had a good time together.  She didn’t know him well enough to care to meet his friends or find out much about what he did.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with this.  I don’t expect utter devotion to someone you’ve only been casually dating, but I also don’t comprehend risking your life, at the end of the world, to find out why they were killed when you just weren’t that invested.  Many characters ask her why she is bothering to find out what happened to him when the entire city is dying.   I wholeheartedly agree with them.

Stevie and the rest of the characters in the book are shallow and not particularly likable.  I had a hard time getting into the book.  Towards the end it got better.  That said, I could not figure out why we were wasting time on the mystery of Simon’s death when the plague has come to town.  I kept looking for what tied the story together.  It felt like the book couldn’t decide what it wanted to be.  It is part of a series, however, and I want to see where book two goes.  The mystery portion gets completed, so I believe book two must be about the devastation reaped by plague.  I haven’t decided if I will read book two, but I do think it must be better.  Stevie will have to figure out survival, and she isn’t nearly as shallow at the end of the book.  So, while not very prudent, she has a chance at developing into a character of substance.  Maybe that will be the moral of the series – even the most frivolous have a shot if life challenges them and they choose to rise to the occasion.

Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo created a slippery and enticing novel with ‘Six of Crows.’  Once I started listening to it I didn’t want to stop. I am impatient for the next in series. Kaz Brekker, “Dirty Hands,” from the Barell…wait, scratch that – it is part of the legend he has created about himself. Kaz is a leader of “The Dreggs,” a group of young thieves in The Barell of Ketterdam.  No job is too difficult or unscrupulous.  They will do what is needed to survive.  Kaz and his associates, aren’t as dark as they would like to be believed, but they are skilled.  Enter “The Wraith,” the stealer of secrets.  You will not hear her enter or exit.  Nina is Grisha, a trained warrior, but separated from her army she is still a Heartrender.  She can make you see what you want/what she wants.  Jesper is a brash Sharpshooter most comfortable in life being shot at.  Wylan is new with an unclear but necessary skill set.  This peculiar team is going to take on an impossible job. A heist requiring Matthias, a convicted Fjerdan Druskelle, to get them into the Ice Palace.  It will be hard enough to break him out of prison, but since he was sent there on Nina’s false testimony, his willingness to betray his country and beliefs with her is only the beginning of the crews obstacles.

I have not read Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy.  I read mixed reviews, but was intrigued by the alternate Russian fantasy world she created.  ‘Six of Crows’ has been reported as darker and more adult.  That makes sense.  It loosely falls in the YA genre because it is about a group of young thieves.  The book, however, is about an intricate heist, politics, subjugation, and drugs.  There is minor romance secondary to the story.  It is present to instigate development in the characters.  I was impressed at the depth and range of traits Bardugo built into them.  They are authentic, likable, and I became invested – especially in Inej or ‘The Wraith.’

There is a strong theme of disillusionment with any form of idealism.  These characters each lost innocence of believing in right and wrong having strict delineations.  Mathias is a Druskelle, raised to be part of a fanatically religious Fjerdan army that believes Grisha, non human abominations, must be eliminated.  Nina was raised as a Grisha warrior meant to infiltrate Fjerda.  Kaz lost all as a child at the hands ruthless con artists.  Inej was caught, enslaved, and sold to a house of ill repute where she was hocked nightly.  You get the picture.  This story is about a group of people forced to deal with dark aspects of the world as it is – not as it is represented. YA is flush with dystopias where people have loss, but there is generally a strong theme of revolution based off of right and wrong.  It rarely shows the aftermath where those newly in power, considered bastions of right, resort to abuses of power similar to the regime it displaced. Bardugo’s novel deals with realization of  complexities or murkiness between ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ Despite dealing with these heavy topics ‘Six of Crows’ is fun.  I am impressed.

It is narrated by a talented ensemble cast including Jay Snyder, David Ledoux, Lauren Fortgang, Roger Clark, Elizabeth Evans, Tristan Morris, and Brandon Rubin.  The group does a great job.  With the large cast there is clear character differentiation.  They handled Bardugo’s fantastical word pronunciation consistently which does not always take place.  If done incorrectly it is cause for me to abandon the audio version for the book.  I don’t doubt that reading the book is enjoyable but when the second book comes out I will look for the audible version.  The narrators interpretation of the characters helped endear me to them.  If you would like to listen to a sample of the narration take the link below.  My personal tastes prefer to listen to it at 1.25 speed.

If it is not clear, I encourage you to read this book.  I think even those who only like the grimmest of the Grimdark will enjoy ‘Six of Crows.’ If you enjoy Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series I’m pretty certain you will like this.  As said above, I didn’t read the Grisha trilogy, but I’ve seen enough reviews to be able to say that if you liked it you will want to pick up ‘Six of Crows.’  I think this book will have a wide audience.

Flex – Ferrett Steinmetz

I have no complaints for this book and several compliments.  There is action, humor, and it’s smart.  Steinmetz created an alternate reality that includes both magic and the Affordable Health Care Act.  …an interesting choice.  His magic is ‘mancy.  Power born from obsession and escapism.  If what you love and respect above all else is rules and paperwork you become a Bureaucromancer like Paul Tsabo. A man who believes in the justice paperwork provides.   Steinmetz main character is a skinny ex-cop who decided, by choice, to quit and work for an insurance company, Samaritan Mutual.  His job has been to catch ‘Mancers.  The people who distort the fabric of reality for their wishes, and it makes them dangerous because reality has to bend back.  This process is called Flux.  As the universe tries to make up for the imbalance you get earthquakes or storms raining frogs. … It’s quite the day when he becomes one.  In ‘Flex,’ Paul is searching for a ‘Mancer by the name of Anathema.  She uses her ‘mancy to create Flex, a drug, that gives mundanes the abilities of a ‘Mancer for limited time.  They, however, have no idea how to handle their flux and it is creating havoc in Manhattan.  It created a gas fire that burned Paul’s daughter, and the Bureaucromancer will do what he has to in order to stop her.

Paul is great character.  He’s a divorced father, ex-cop, hero, and insurance claim investigator.  He was disabled after his foot was crushed in his fight with ‘the Illustromancer.’  It led to stress in his marriage and escapism in work.  He believed if he couldn’t fix his own problems at least he could work on his claims and fix other people’s.  The focus and passion for it led to his work becoming ‘mancy.  This kind-hearted and loyal man is an unlikely hero.  Yes, he was a cop, but not because he had physical aptitude for it.  Clothes hang on him like a hanger.  It is his determination that got him on the police force and what drives him in his fight with Anathema.  He’s a good man, and a good caring father, despite the fact he is not a perfect one.  There is no such thing as a perfect parent.  What drives Paul is his essential goodness.  Steinmetz did well in his creation along with other characters like Valentine.  She is described as a sunny, pudgy, goth girl.  She’s pretty despite being fifty pounds overweight.  She’s messy in how she lives, but when the flux from your ‘mancy takes all you care about away, how else would you live?  She’s a solid and flawed character.  She cares for Paul’s daughter with the ferocity of someone who hasn’t received the same.  You start to see a pattern.  Steinmetz characters are kind, well-intentioned, and realistic.  They aren’t perfect.  Life has dealt them some tragedy that instigated their motivations.  There is also diversity without simplifying the characters into tokens.  I highly recommend this book from character study alone.

I both read and listened to ‘Flex’ and enjoyed it both ways.  I don’t think you can go wrong with either decision.  Peter Brooke’s narration is delightful.  My attention didn’t stray.  Brooke’s interpretation of Steinmetz humor was perfect.  It fit.  The more I pay attention to a narrator’s ability to differentiate characters the more I am impressed with those who do it well.  It isn’t easy and Brooke is successful. When I got interrupted and neglected to pause ‘Flex’ I knew exactly who was speaking in the story.  I wasn’t lost. I went back solely because I didn’t want to miss anything.

The second book is ‘Flux’ and I can’t wait to read it.  I’m forcing myself to wait a bit because I haven’t fallen in love this way with a book since Wesley Chu’s Tao series.  This isn’t to say I haven’t loved and enjoyed other books/series.  I most certainly have.  The attachment for it comes from the feeling I am left with after reading it.  It’s one of goodness, one of hope in an admittedly imperfect world.  I love the ridiculousness of the magic system because it feels right.  Magic created out of obsession and escapism makes sense to me.  Beurocromancy, Videogamemancy, etc. is so preposterous and harebrained it literally rings of reality.  I buy Steinmetz alternate universe, and if you are in the proper mood I am betting you will too.  If you are looking for something beautiful or grim this isn’t it, however, if you like some humor and bizarre reality in your magic system/fantasy pick this up.


Thorn Jack – Katherine Harbour (Night and Nothing#1)


(This book, or part of it, is set at Halloween.)

This is a great read set through the month of October with the climax on Halloween..  ‘Thorn Jack’ captures the feel of Autumn. The brisk cold has the wind ripping leaves off trees. The Fae or Others, and their dead brought to life by the fairy folk, play their part.  Add a Teind, a pact that must be satisfied for the Fae and their collected spirits to live another 100 years and the story starts to get interesting.  Now, include a woman starting her first year at college in the sleepy Northeastern American town of Fair Hollow.  After her sister and her mother took their own lives in California Finn and her father fled to heal from the loss.  It’s a pretty fascinating concept, right?  It also is a retelling of the old Scottish ballad Tam Lin.  This book felt created especially for me based off my own personal interests.  It is very good but it is also a book that fades in and out of greatness.  The first near half of the book is close to perfect, however.  Katherine Harbour has a way with words and created a beautiful world mixing the normal with otherness.  It reminded me a bit of Charles De Lint’s writings.

Serafina Sullivan, better known as Finn, came to Fair Hollow with her father, the professor of myth and folklore, to escape constant reminders of the loss of her sister, Lily Rose. Someone, who we learn about through small portions of her journal.  Finn and her father move into her late grandmothers house covered in carvings/pictures of fairies and anthropomorphic animals.  It is a true example of the eccentric town that contains several other boarded up mansions belonging to old families of wealth and fortune.  It has been a haven for the art/theatre community for years.  Finn’s college takes liberal and unconventional to new levels, but the town love for celtic tradition appears to be more than nostalgia for lineage and roots. Finn and the close friends she makes get drawn into Fae mischief.  Finn turns the eye of a Fairy Queen and her Jack.  Their interest, and the why behind the interest is what this book is about.  When Finn sees ties to the Fae in her sister’s journal it causes her to unabashedly rush down the rabbit hole in search of answers.  The fact that she is attracted to the Jack only draws her further.

I recommend you read this book rather than listen to it.  Kate Rudd narrates it and while she has done very well with other books, such as The Chronos Files Series by Rysa Walker, I preferred my own interpretation of Harbour’s writing.  Listen to the snippet available prior to purchasing the audio version and make your own assessment.

The first half of this book I could not put down.  Harbour’s writing is picturesque and I adored the originality.  I recognize this is a retelling, and that Tam Lin itself is a romantic story of a woman who tricks the Fairy Queen to release her love/the Queen’s Jack from her clutches.  My problem is I was so engrossed in Finn’s story of finding out what happened to her sister, who committed suicide and the reasons behind it, I was frustrated at being drawn away from that portion of the story. Ultimately, however, Harbour had to develop the tale of how Finn grows a new heart in the dead Jack.  (A Jack is an Other, who at the bidding of the Fairy Queen, causes people to fall in love with them in the pursuit of mischief and.)  The paranormal romance is not bad, but it did not have the same teeth that Finn’s search of the truth about her sister’s death has.  The romance is predictable and typical of current YA/NA writing.  The character interaction of Finn with her friend’s Sylvie and Christie loses its depth and realness at this point as well.  I belive Harbour has great potential as an author. I hope the next stories in the series of Night and Nothing can be the level of the first half of this book all the way through.   I believe Harbour can do it and I have been left curious.  I’m assuming the stories will not be about Finn and Jack since this story feels so complete.

I recommend you pick this up is you like stories about the Fae.  This is very good at leaning on real lore regarding the Fae from Celtic origins with interesting quotes from Shakespeare, Yeats, and Lady Gregory.  It is definitely New Adult and paranormal romance but it is interesting.  As I said I am interested in Harbour’s other work.

The Infernals/Hells Bells – John Connolly (Samuel Johnson#2)

Samuel’s success at closing the gate to Hell didn’t leave him quite in the position one would hope for.  Instead of being hailed a conquering hero for sussing out the plot and rallying people to the cause, they quietly believe he bears some responsibility.  They have done all they can to forget that demons descended on Biddlecombe.  When they see Samuel, however, they remember.  This makes him partially to blame in their thoughts.   If you have not read ‘The Gates’ it’s the wonderful start to the tale of Samuel Johnson vs. the Devil series. Everything started because Samuel and his faithful dachshund, Boswell, went trick-or-treating on October 28 when he was eleven.  He was maximizing his candy gathering potential when he interrupted a party of bored adults playing with the occult.  It all went downhill from there.

Samuel is thirteen now, and infatuated with the girl every little boy falls in love with.  He’s not spoken to her yet.  He’s still working up the courage. Aside from regular teenage worries he keeps seeing Mrs. Abernathy in the reflections of a puddle or mirror.  He just catches her out of the corner of his eye.  He has no doubt being the focus of an extremely powerful demon with a grudge is not a good thing.  During this book he is transported through a portal to Hell.  Luckily, he has company.  In trying to obtain Samuel a few others were brought to Hell by mistake. England has its own devilishly mischievous creatures.  Mr. Merrywether’s dwarves, an acting troupe of four little men, are pleasantly troublesome. The badly behaved crew is always in conflict with the law and once in Hell they give the demons just as much hassle.

We get to be reunited with “Nurd – The Scourge of Five Deities, Wormwood, and some of our other endearing demonic friends.  John Connolly did not disappoint with this sequel.  He includes the footnotes I loved in the first book.  There is a lot of scientific information in this and the last book.  The footnotes allow for some humorous/clever explanation.  It has been likened to Douglas Adam’s humor in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’  I don’t disagree, but Connolly has his own voice and style.  I saved this for Halloween because I believed part of it was set on October 31st, like ‘The Gates,’ but that was a misguided notion.  The third book, however, is set during Christmas time.  I will be putting ‘The Creeps’ in the queue at the end of November.

‘The Infernals,’ like ‘The Gates’ audio version is narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds and he does an amazing job.  Do not read this book even  if you only occasionally dabble in audio books.  He is paired perfectly with the material and, in my opinion, adds to the experience of the book.  I’m sure reading it will not disappoint, but I highly encourage you to listen to this book not only for, but also specifically for, his interpretation of Mr. Merrywether’s Elves/Dwarves.

It is a middle grade book, however, most of the people I know who have read and enjoyed it are adults.  There is much discussion regarding Hell and demons.  This may have you questioning whether eleven and thirteen year olds should be reading it.  The UK title is ‘Hell’s Bells’ and was changed for the US publication in part because of this concern.  It is not frightening or inappropriate.  There is no profanity included in it unless you count ‘Hell’ as profanity.  It does not comment upon religion in a negative or positive light.  I, personally, would not have a problem with nine year olds reading it, but I am not offended by Hell or demons.  I include this so you have some context in determining how family friendly it is.

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