Book Review: Hallowe’en Party – Agatha Christie


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

It is Autumn, this week there have been storm clouds in the sky and wind pulling leaves off branches.  I am preparing for Halloween and hopefully a horde of trick or treaters who will be  knocking on doors in the near future.  In my preparation, I was also listening to Christie’s ‘Hallowe’en Party.’  It is a book I have not read by an author I consider an old friend – even if I never met her.  Agatha Christie and her beloved Belgian Hercule Poirot are special to me.  I watched the series with Hugh Fraser as Hastings and David Suchet as Poirot with my family as a child. Recently, I watched several with my father and they withstood the test of time.  It was with joy I found out the narration was done by Hugh Fraser heightening a sense of nostalgia for me and I burrowed down into blankets and dogs to enjoy this mystery.

Hercule Poirot is older now, at the end of his career, but he still seeks justice with a well-groomed mustache and patent leather shoes.  At the request of his friend the famous murder mystery writer, Ariadne Oliver, he has come to help solve the death of a young girl.  Ariadne was invited to her friend’s house for a Halloween Party.  Amidst the broom decoration, witches telling young girls fortunes, bobbing for apples, and the snapdragon a girl is found drowned.  Not in a mundane fashion either, she was found with her head floating in the tub used for bobbing for apples.  No one can think why someone would want her dead.  She wasn’t delightful, in fact she was known to seek attention by lying, but she wasn’t what one would consider special.  Ariadne heard the young girl boasting of having seen a murder to her friends, but when no one believed her she flounced off in a huff.  It wasn’t until the party was over anyone noticed her disappearance.  Ariadne, noticing something more sinister, insists Poirot come and use his skills to find out what is really happening in this quiet village.

Christie’s writing is as enjoyable as ever.  Her humor in these delicate murder mysteries is part of what I think made her stories unique and loved.  She never skimped on creating real whole characters.  ‘Hallowe’en Party’ is not long but it is packed with a good mystery, and commentary on the times it was written.  This was published in 1969 and while it still holds the atmosphere of a quiet English village you can feel Christie seeing the changes in England as she writes about it, including the changing opinions on children, accountability, and justice.  Much is said about how making “morally right” decisions can have larger, and in Christie’s view more negative, impacts on children and society.

The Halloween party is perfect.  You get a lot of discussion about village witches, the difference between pumpkins and vegetable marrows, young girls seeing their future husbands in mirrors, and a Snapdragon.  I had no idea what a Snapdragon is.  For your information  ‘Snapdragon’ is a Victorian parlour game where raisins are put in a shallow bowl filled with brandy.  The Brandy is lit and children try to grab the “snapping” raisins from the bowl.  It sounds a touch dangerous to me but it definitely fits as a fun Halloween game (even if it usually took place at Christmas time).

Small town politics and gossip, as is tradition, help Christie’s characters find their murderer.  I loved this book.  It will definitely be something I reread/relisten to around Halloween.  It is the perfect length at 336 pages or about six hours listening time.  It will get you ready for a Halloween party of your own…

*This is on sale for $1.99 on Amazon starting 10-19-15*


Book Review: The Dead Zone – Dawn Kurtagich


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

Kurgatich’s Kaitlyn and Carly Johnson are either two sisters, twin souls, living in the same body, or suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder.  This disturbed young woman has been hospitalized since the death of her parents, but in this book she is believed to make enough progress for her to be released and allowed to go to Elmbridge Boarding School, the feeder from the hospital.  Her staying is dependent on her continued therapy, her eating habits, and whether Kaitlyn acts up.  Include fictional Scottish witchcraft named Mala and Kurgatich has created a situation that she develops into some exquisite horror.  The story is told in an epistolary style through investigation notes, Carly’s and Kaitlyn’s diary, their friend Naida’s camera footage, and Lansings psychiatric case notes. The story does not disappoint in written or audible formats.  The book is artistic in its layout and images, but I have to say the narration by Charlotte Parry and Christian Coulson is brilliant.  Charlotte Parry in particular makes you feel the terror Kurgatich puts her characters through.

Carly Johnson experiences life only in the light of day.  At night her sister takes over her body.  They don’t speak but they write each other notes.  They don’t know what has happened to the body they share unless they tell one another.  Imagine waking up with bruises when you don’t know how they appeared or speaking to people who expect you to remember conversations you didn’t technically have.  It’s a complicated life.  It’s worse when someone, a person who is credited with your care, determines what you can or can not do with your life.  It’s terrifying when you entrust them to help you discern what is real and they are not competent.  Neither Carly or Kaitlyn remember what happened to their parents.  Dr. Lansing keeps this from them believing that once Carly is able to integrate or absorb her Kaitlyn personality that she will remember on her own.  That, the prescriptions and dosages, and belief that Kaitlyn can be absorbed at all are questionable.  Dr. Lansing is reckless and presumptuous, but that does not mean that Carly/Kaitlyn wasn’t suffering from mental illness.  In this story Kaitlyn and Carly are at the center of death and fire at the school  The Carly Johnson Incident becomes infamous inspiring paranormal investigators to visit the school.  Disappearances continue to mount in number even though the school was closed and abandoned.  Once it was listed as one of England’s most haunted destinations people could not stop people from flocking to it.

Kurgatich created a solid story.  The Mala witchcraft was nice touch.  It’s creation is solid enough I thought it might be authentic.  Kurgatich, however, is very careful to make sure we understand it is fabricated, as is the island it is supposed to originate from.  It has some pieces of voodoo and Wicca.  Joining a psychiatric patient suffering from PTSD with a friend who was raised in ancient/pagan beliefs and rituals could have drastic effects on how the patient saw themselves  There are many reasons a person can exhibit behavior.  One persons mental illness is another’s possession.  The treatment plan of a mental health professional and  a ‘Mala’ practitioner are certainly different.  What actually is effecting Carly/Kaitlyn is something you will have to glean for yourself.

The narration of this book is masterful.  Charlotte Parry does the bulk of the narration with the diary entries, Lansing’s case notes, and Naida’s video.  He performance of Carly/Kaitlyn’s emotional nuance is believable and in places heartbreaking, but it is not limited to those characters.  She handles her other characters with as much care.  Christian Coulson performance it’s strong too, but the investigation notes don’t require quite the same delicacy as the diary entries.  The music in the interludes is fitting.  It helps create an atmosphere of fear.

I encourage you to listen to this book.  It is good.  If you don’t like horror this may not be for you, but while it holds a paranormal question at the end of the day I would categorize this as a psychological thriller.  It also has a fabulous scene set on Halloween at one of Naida’s relatives house.  It is the start of the unraveling…  If you are looking for a Halloween horror read I encourage you to pick this up.

Book Review: The Wailing Wind – Tony Hillerman


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

Deputy Bernadette Manuelito of the Navajo Tribal Police gets called out on a last-minute call to check out an abandoned car.  She arrives at the scene to find what looks like a man sleeping off a night of drinking.  The dead man, however, doesn’t rouse.   Everything points to natural causes, there is no obvious cause of death, and she didn’t look hard at the scene until the gun shot was found by the EMT.  The murder of this man, Doherty, and an old case Joe Leaphorn worked years ago seem to be related.  It is tied to the legend of The Wailing Woman, the lost treasure of The Golden Calf, and the Halloween night years ago that Wiley Denton shot the con man McKay.

Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Mysteries with Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn are infamous.  The legendary Joe Leaphorn has been solving cases in the Four Corners for years.  Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant has retired but it hasn’t stopped his curiosity.  He reaches out to Sgt. Jim Chee when he hears about the murder of Doherty.  He wants to know if it has any relation to his previous case where Wiley Denton shot a con man trying to sell him the location ‘The Golden Calf.’  The motivations aren’t obvious, but maps are found at Doherty’s murder site along with an old tin of placer gold.  Everything from the old case gets turned over, including Denton’s missing wife, who was supposed to go to a lunch with her friends the day of the murder.  She never showed up and never came home. People thought she ran off.  She was too young and too pretty for Denton.  She was believed to be in league with McKay because she introduced him to her husband.  No one, however, who knew her believed it to be true and neither did her husband.   Denton, in fact, hires Leaphorn during this book to look into her missing persons case.   He never stopped looking for her.  Leaphorn can’t shake the feeling this has something to do with the police report of three kids on that Halloween night.  They said they heard a woman crying amongst the old army bunkers at Fort Wingate.  It was Halloween, however, and the kids were scared.  By the end of the night two of the kids were convinced they heard “La Llorana”/the wailing woman, another one was sure it was a Skinwalker, and the last thought it was vampire.  It got dismissed as nothing.  Leaphorn isn’t so sure.

I read all of Hillerman’s books several years ago.  In fact, I remember listening to some of them when I was a kid  back when audio books were books-on-tape.  My family was traveling cross-country and we would stop at the Cracker Barrel’s, trading one Hillerman book-on-tape out for another.  Leaphorn and Chee made it so we could drive fourteen hour days and not commit murder.  Enough nostalgia.  The point is I read them awhile ago and forgot how good they are.  I reread this mainly because it’s Autumn and Halloween is coming.  I wanted to indulge in the murder set on October 31.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I got to rediscover a favorite author and series.  Hillerman captures the cultural intricacies and beauty of the American Southwest.  His writing is beautiful in a sparse way that reflects the scenery of the area.

Hillerman has a wonderful grasp not only of the Navajo culture in the Four Corners area but also the Zuni, Hopi, Hispanic and belagaana/caucasian cultures living there.  He grew up in the southwest.   It is how, along with research, he obtained the information contained in his stories. He has  received the Navajo Tribes Special Friend Award and Center for the American Indian Ambassador Award for bringing attention to Native American culture and concerns.  I recommend you read Hillerman’s books if you enjoy mysteries or if you have any interest in the American West.  They are contemporary Westerns.  If you are looking for where to start, the first of the Navajo Mysteries is ‘The Blessing Way.’

Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson’s novel is hailed as a distinguished and important work in horror.  ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ has a distinctly gothic feel even if it was published in 1959.  The house is a dark character enveloping people into its warped halls unwilling to let them go.  Dr. Montague, a scholar, who after considerable years searching finds Hill House.  It’s history is dark.  Tragic events taken place through the years lead him to believe it could be haunted.  He intends to find out by researching the phenomena correctly, in a controlled experiment, with people who have an inclination toward the paranormal.  He finds his participants by sifting through reports of metaphysical events.  Montague then sends out letters to the candidates he determined qualified and invites them for a summer at Hill House.  The three people who respond come for their own reasons.  They did not come, nor stay, because of an interest in the paranormal.

I picked up this book in anticipation for Fall, October, and Halloween.  It does not have a Halloween theme, is not set in October, or any part of Autumn.  It is, however, a seminal horror classic.  It is the haunted house genre. People read it every Halloween.  Who doesn’t want to indulge in a book about a haunted house when you can go to one after reading it?

The strength of this book lies in Jackson’s writing.   Her brand of horror is mental manipulation rather than physical danger.  Hill House has a twisted history of playing tricks on its inhabitant’s minds.  Those who come to stay tend to die rather than leave.  The few who have been able to leave develop an unhealthy obsession to go back.  Jackson includes some good twists and turns.  That said, it’s one thing to decide to spend a weekend exploring a hostile paranormal phenomena, but what could possibly possess anyone to stay a summer in a house believed to be haunted?

I listened to the narration by Bernadette Dunn.  She has a beautiful voice but it didn’t inspire the fear Jackson made her characters experience.  I do wonder if I read it instead, if ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ might have had more of an impact on me.  Dunn’s interpretation of climactic moments didn’t sound particularly different from the everyday events.

‘The Haunting of Hill House’ was horrifying to readers when it came out.  It was original.  It, however, is not now if you have read other haunted house tales with a paranormal investigation.  I recognize the books I’ve read were Jackson’s descendants.  They, unfortunately, prepared me for the climactic points of this book.   It will not have the effect on current readers it had on those in the sixties.  This does not mean you shouldn’t read it, but you should know its history, so you can respect it even if you are not frightened by it.

Halloween themed books/books set at Halloween

It is October.  Autumn.  Halloween is around the corner.  The leaves are changing.  The weather is brisk.  What other time of year do you get to say that?  It’s time for pumpkins, pumpkin pie, pumpkin spiced latte’s, and don’t forget soup.

Halloween is a favorite holiday.  I love seeing little ghouls and superheroes come to my door.  Seeing a child pick out a pumpkin, carve it, and spoon out it’s seedy guts is wonderful .  Send me Elmo babies and dogs dressed as Freddie Kruger.  I think we can all agree trick or treating, jack-o-lanterns, and corn mazes are fabulous with or without crazy men chasing you with chainsaws.  Haunted houses pop up in vacant lots.  The best I’ve heard about this year requires a waiver.  It’s at an old hospital and they can touch you.  I’m a bit of a pansy when it come to visuals, and I would likely hit someone, so I will be skipping it.  But doesn’t it sound amazing?  It is quite literally the best people watching holiday.

It is time to ramp up.   I am looking for anything set at Halloween – books, movies, TV episodes.  Halloween does not have to be the theme, but it does have to be part of the story.  I don’t require it to be scary, however, good horror is appreciated.  Throw in zombies, witches, and paranormal hijinks.  It will make it better.  Mysteries and thrillers set at Halloween are wanted.  Murder spices things up.  Don’t forget the humor or camp, however.

It’s time to watch the leaves fall, wrap yourself in a toasty sweater, drink a cup of apple cider and get ready for a dark and stormy night.  To do that, you need to curl up with a book, or a movie that’s just as dark as what is brewing outside.  This month I have collected a group of new books that are season appropriate.  I will share them with you through the month.The only rules I have – part of the book takes place at Halloween.  Please share your favorites.  I will share with you what I find this year through the month, but let’s kick off by giving you a list of what I’ve found in the past.

Books Set at Halloween

*Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury

A tale of two friends making the turn to teenagers on Halloween night.  It has a wicked travelling carnival including witches.  This is a classic that captures Fall.  It’s scary.  Disney made a movie of this in 1983.  The film gave me nightmares.  I still remember that damn carousel.

* The Gates – John Connolly

This is a clever book about a young boy who goes trick or treating with his dachshund Boswell three days early.  He’s trying to maximize.  He stumbles upon a plot to open the gates of Hell by a group of bored adults at 666 Crowley Rd.  ‘The Gates’  is funny and includes the Hadron Collider, Satan, and the Great Maleficense.  This isn’t scary but a worthy read.

*Dance Upon the Air – Nora Roberts

This is the start of a Nora Roberts Trilogy.  At it’s heart it is both a romance as well as self-exploration.  A woman comes out of a relationship so abusive she had to fake her own death.  There are supernatural elements.  There are witches on an island created by magic.  Halloween plays a part at the climax of this story.

*Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness

Harkness’s story includes witches, vampires, and daemons.  Diana Bishop is a witch in denial.  She became a historian in an effort to maintain control and rationale in her life.  Her childhood home is haunted by her ancestors. When she calls up an ancient alchemical manuscript from the Bodleian library her world falls apart.  This is partially a romance.  Halloween plays a part at the end of the book and the cliffhanger.

The Thickety – J.A. White

 A story about a young girl with powers.  This is a middle school novel where a young girl grows up in a colonial village without her mother because she was convicted of witchcraft.  Her family has been shunned and there is mystery about an evil in the local wood called the Thickety.  It grows bigger despite the towns people clearing the trees every day.  Colonial Halloween traditions of bobbing for apples etc. take place.


I read horror last year that was great ( favorites:  The Girl With All the Gifts, Feed, World War Z, Horrorstor, etc.) and I loved them, but they were not set at Halloween or Halloween themed.  Please let me know if you have suggestions.  I do have a Zombie trend but I welcome others.

Book Review: Lexicon – Max Barry

Max Barry combined Poets and secret agents in ‘Lexicon.’  Words can persuade us, lead us in the direction people want us to go.  All a Poet has to do is ask you a series of five questions.  The answers will let them know what words and sounds will bend you to their will.  Ancient stories about the Tower of Babel hold more truth than we give them credit for.  Wil Jamieson is at the center of a search for a word, the Bare Word.  He doesn’t know it but when Elliot finds him in a bathroom, sticks a needle in his eye, and starts asking the five questions he realizes his life is changed.  From here people get killed, Wil is kidnapped by Elliot, and he starts to learn about a life he doesn’t remember he had in Broken Hill, Australia.  He is ‘The Outlier,’ it doesn’t mean anything to him, but it means a lot to these people.

Words are fascinating.  There is a power of persuasion in them, maybe not quite as strong as Barry makes it out to be, but if you study marketing and psychology there is credence to being able to make people susceptible to persuasion.  It can be as simple as the color of the plate you serve food on, the temperature set in a casino to keep you awake and alert, the lack of windows in a casino to discourage the notice of passing time.  These examples are not related to word choice but do relate to the science of suggestion.  Barry takes this real concept and increases the risk and reward potentials with ‘Lexicon’

Emily Ruff is a teenage junkie living on the streets in California.  Her game is Three Card Monte and she is very successful, well, successful enough that she can eat and get a fix.  One day a gentlemen in a cheap suit comes to play.  He’s a mark, she knows if she doesn’t let him win he’ll continue to play and she’ll have a good night.  Just as he is ready to pick she chooses to let him win at the last moment.  She can’t figure out why, but she’s lost him.  You let a guy like that win and they have no interest in playing.  This leads Emily down a path to be recruited for a very special school, one with no name, that teaches her to utilize her natural skill at persuasion.

The school is different from any you have ever seen.  It is very strict.  Boxers fists are considered lethal weapons because of the damage they can do.  Just imagine if your words had the same power.

Barry’s thriller is good.  I love the concept.  The anachronic story is told from multiple perspectives at different time frames.  The pace becomes frenetic towards the end – especially since you have key pieces of information the characters don’t.

Caring about people, things, or ideas is a danger to Poets.  The more someone knows about you the better they can control you.  After all, it only takes five questions to categorize the average person.  Poets guard against affiliations, love, want, and need eternally protecting themselves from compromise.  So, what happens if you break the rules?  This aspect of the story I found compelling, but it also opened the door to handling relationships/lack of relationships and sex in a very base way.  If I believed Barry meant for it to come off crass I think I might respect the way he handled it better even if I did not like it.  In this book, women seem to be categorized as an “Eve,” women who tempt men into compromising situations because of their own wanton desire.  Both Bronte and Wolf exhibit these behaviors and they are the only women in the book with real character developement.  It wasn’t flattering, and interesting that men were seen to be more controlled/moral. From this aspect alone, I would have thought ‘Lexicon’ was written at an earlier time.  It’s an outdated notion.  It’s not a huge part of the book but is important to the story

I listened to Heather Corrigan and Zach Appleman’s narration.  They did a good job.  Appleman, specifically, did a fantastic job with Wil’s Australian accent and the character’s personality change.

The book is interesting and for the most part enjoyable.  I think many people will like it despite the concern I mentioned above.  There are a lot of concepts that make it worth reading

Book Review: Updraft – Fran Wilde

Fran Wilde’s debut novel left me wishing for a sequel even though I knew her story was complete with this book.  Wilde’s novel is a great stand alone.  She created a world that could be a futuristic dystopia, but I saw it as a fantasy with its own world.  In Wilde’s sky towers she has a young woman preparing for her skytest.  If she passes she can become a trader, like her mother, and fly among the towers, bringing good luck, and visiting the spire.   As teenagers will do from time to time, she chose not listen to her mother, she stayed outside to watch her mother’s departure and skymouths attacked.  She was locked out, unable to get in, and to everyone’s shock was able to shout down the attacking skymouth.  The good luck is she saved her life, the bad luck is it brought her to the attention of the Singers.  The Singers keep Tower law, live in the Spire, and separate from the rest of tower society.  Singers, once identified, learn the secrets of their culture and must break from their families . Wilde’s story centers on Kirit’s journey once the Singers decide they want her to be one of them.   ‘Updraft’ is good Young Adult fiction.  I applaud its lack of romance.  I enjoy love and romance but it’s nice to see young adult fiction centered on a girl whose focus is solely about the situation and task at hand.  Not every story needs a love interest.

Kirit wants to be like her mother, a famous trader and a credit to her tower, but her mistake took her irrevocably off course.  Her skill at flying and her desires became irrelevant.  Singers have the power to change not only her life but the lives of everyone a person cares about.   Many lessons are learned.  Kirit learns that some choices can not be unmade; that your actions effect not only you, and when/what battles to fight and which ones you should leave alone.

Wilde’s writing is good.  Her story, while is definitely a coming of age story, has some unique attributes.  Her world is interesting, set in the clouds her towers grow from bone. Her people are a society created from the aftermath of war.  They are a remnant of a people who struggled to create their society heavily reliant on law, tradition, and the Singer’s.   Wilde doesn’t give into utilizing trends or obvious cliché’s  when the plot became tricky.  I applaud Wilde for sticking to her guns and relying on her solid plot to move the story along.  It made me cheer to see youth having bigger things to worry about than a love interest.  I enjoy love stories.  Love is an integral part of who we are as people – how we react to it when we get it and when we lose it. It is a driving force, but I like recognizing teenagers/children are more complex.  Multiple forces and concerns grow people into adults.  It’s nice to see others highlighted.

Khristine Hvam narrated the audible version.  She does a great job.  She’s well-known and has narrated ‘The Chronicles of Elantra’ series by Michelle Sagara, ‘The Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ by Laini Taylor, ‘Conversion’ by Katherine Howe, and ‘Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines amongst several others.  Hvam didn’t disappoint with ‘Updraft’ she handled several characters and the emotion of the story with ease.

This is a strong book with solid world building.  If you are in the mood for a good coming of age story, that does not rely heavily on romance, this is one of the few books that falls in that category with a female protagonist.  I hope Wilde continues writing.  I was surprised this was her debut.  Her writing reminded me of a seasoned author.  I have high hopes for her writing career, and look forward to reading more of her novels in the future.  I would definitely recommend this to teenagers but I am an adult and I enjoyed it.  I expect other adults to enjoy it as well.

I received this from Audible in return for an honest review.  If you would like to go to audible and sample a snippet of Hvam’s narration take the link below.

Book Review: Armada – Ernest Cline

Is this an amazingly fun book?  Yes.  The references make my inner sci-fi nerd happy. I enjoyed every single reference I caught.  I’m not ashamed to say I’m sure I missed some.  I kept waiting for Cline’s main character Zack Lightman to figure them out.  He didn’t disappoint, Lightman Jr.  is no dummy.  His mother didn’t suffer a fool.  She’s a gamer herself.  That said, is it original and going to go down in literary history?  Probably not.  Is the question of it being similar to ‘The Last Starfighter’ valid?  Yes.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t good.  In fact any person who enjoys sci-fi or gaming will find reading this time well spent and smile.  I did say or.  I’m not a gamer.  I know the basics but this isn’t just for sci-fi or gamer fans.  It’s for both and even people who aren’t well versed in the 1980’s.   This is fun.  There will be haters out there who expect more, who will say they could have written it, there will even be people who say Cline is only rehashing what made him great.  I couldn’t care less.  I loved this book and Will Wheaton’s narration.  Thank you, Cline, thank you very much.

Zack Lightman is the son of a gamer, actually two gamers.  His dad died when he was young and he knows little about him from personal experience.  He did, however, get to dig though the ridiculous amount of memorabilia his mom kept.  This eighteen year-old kid works at a Game store, and plays ‘Armada’ every minute he can.  The kid lives in the past.  He knows everything about the eighties movies and games his dad liked.  It’s an obsession.  He wears his dads clothes.  You could say there is an unhealthy attachment to a dad he never knew.  He knows it’s a problem, but he didn’t realize how big of a problem until he starts seeing things that can’t possibly be true.  When he’s at school he sees aircraft flying through the sky from ‘Armada’.  He looks around his class to see if anyone else see’s what he’s seeing.  They don’t.  Is it real or is he going crazy?  He read his dad’s journal.  Is he going insane like his dad?  Is he destined to be a conspiracy nut?

No, I’m not going to tell you.  You are going to read the book and you’d hate me if I told you.  If you want the cheat codes read someone else’s review.

I listened to Will Wheaton’s narration.  If you listened to ‘Ready Player One’ you know he’s skilled.  He handles multiple characters with ease, but the best part of his narration is that he is in tune with Cline’s humor.  I didn’t read it.  I can’t say if I would have enjoyed it more or less if I didn’t have Wheaton’s interpretation.  I can say there are books where a narrator adds to the enjoyability of the book.  I believe this is one.

There are many things that make this book good; the father son theme, the possibility for a kid who looked like he was throwing his life away making good, the friendships, and the references.  Oh, the references… They are so good.  Reading the book you will feel the likeness to many books/movies/games; ‘The Last Starfighter,’ ‘Contact,’ and ‘Ender’s Game’ to name a few.  What makes it clear he’s not plagiarizing anyone is Cline not only recognizes them but honors them.  He knows what he’s doing.  He’s not trying to take credit for the original ideas.  He wants you to figure it out.  He loves these cultural icons as much as anyone.

My advice is to read it/listen to it.  Don’t take anything too seriously.  Start the book recognizing it is meant to be fun.  Turn off your inner critic and indulge.

The Fools Quest – Robin Hobb

Many things happen in this book we have been waiting so long for.  ‘Fool’s Quest’ is the second in the Fitz and the Fool series, but is the sixteenth in the Realm of the Elderling’s story, Robin Hobb created involving the Farseer’s and the Fool.  Hobb is extraordinary.  If you haven’t read her the story needs to be read, for the most part, in order.  The Liveship Traders series can be taken on its own, but The Fitz and the Fool cannot be.  The true pay off of this book is rooted in a culmination of events in the making since Assassin’s Apprentice, book one of the first series, The Farseer Trilogy.  I can’t express my feelings and attachment for these characters adequately.  If you have any interest in fantasy these are the books I encourage you to read.   They are beautiful, touching, violent, and immensely painful.  Hobb is not traditional Grimdark, but it is Grimdark, and the best I’ve read.

Hobb ended The Fool’s Assassin with a distressing cliff hanger.  Characters at Buckkeep Castle are ignorant of this information for a large portion of the book – building significant tension.  The Fool is on the brink of death and Chade has ensconced him in his hidden chambers to protect the broken man.  Fitz works in his traditional role for Chade, the work of bastard sons of the Royal Family, while keeping an eye on the Fool. His return in the dark of night made it easy for him to spy for Chade.  It is a way he can pay back Chade, Kettricken, and Dutiful for taking care of his friend.

While Fitz and his family took steps to right old wrongs at Buckkeek, disaster struck Withywoods, Fitz’s home for the past several years with Molly and Bee.  When he returns he sees evidence of invasion/violation.  Magic has tampered with the minds of his people.  They have no memory of what happened, the burned stables, and people killed.  He blames himself, he wasn’t there to protect those he loves and those who are his responsibility.  This time he’s not the only one.  Lant and Shun were sent to Fitz to teach and protect as one royal bastard to another.

Fitz has always been one to act on impulse and emotion, but in this book he finally learns the necessity to take time for preparation.  He’s old, whether he looks it or not, his body and Skill/skills are rusty.  He must use everything he has learned in his life to reap vengeance.  Back are his axes and back is the wetwork of an assassin – whether people like it or not.

Fitz, Chade, The Fool, Kettricken, and even Dutiful have aged.  Where they fit, what they can, and are supposed to do have changed.  They have many responsibilities.  One of the biggest lessons in this book is to meet one responsibility means you must fail another.  Hobb has a magnificent grasp of the complexities of life.  Fitz cannot be everything to everyone.  Just as he gets things he has always wanted he feels strings attached.  They are not meanly meant.  They just are.

I mentioned The Liveship Traders series can stand on its own in the Realm of the Elderlings.  It’s the start of a parallel story.  In the past I would have included the Rainwild Chronicles in that assessment, since there has not been obvious ties to The Farseer’s, but that has changed.  If you are thinking to jump over the Rainwild Chronicles I would recommend against it after this book.

‘Fool’s Quest’ is beautiful.  It caused intense joy and pain in me.  There is nothing I would cut out.  It might not always be obvious but everything Hobb includes had purpose.


Magic Shifts – Ilona Andrews (Kate Daniels #8)

I will reread the Kate Daniels series several times.  Ilona Andrews created a world and characters that make me feel like I’m coming back to my very own alternate home.  It’s urban fantasy but it feels real.  They live in Atlanta after ‘The Shift.’ Technology hit its peak triggering a cataclysmic event bringing magic back to the world.  All the myths, god’s, vampires, shapeshifters, and jinn exist.  Not all have their roots in history and legend.   New beliefs spawn unnamed things/ideas into existence too.  It’s an interesting time.  Magic doesn’t rule constantly.  The world is out of balance and snaps between magic reigning and technology ruling.  Newspapers are back because the internet is unreliable.   You have both cars and horses for transportation but horses are the most sensible.  They work all the time.  If you haven’t explored Kate Daniels world this isn’t the best place to start.  This is the eighth book in the series with several novellas set between.  ‘Magic Shifts’ can stand on its own but you’d be better off starting with ‘Magic Bites,’ the first book.  The titles and the book covers give an impression of light romantic urban fantasy.  The genre doesn’t have the best reputation for good writing but Ilona Andrews breaks the mold by being well written, having strong world building, and flawed wonderful characters.

Life continues in book eight.  Curran, Kate, and Julie have left The Pack and moved to the suburbs.  They have not, however, settled into domestic bliss.  Kate still has Cutting Edge, her detective agency, and people who can’t go to The Order, The PAD, The Pack, or The Mercenary Guild still come to her.   It hasn’t been sixty days and already friends from The Pack have found their way to her door.  Eduardo has gone missing, and the Beastlord isn’t able to investigate because Clan Heavy declared it a clan matter.  They don’t seem to be doing anything, however, and there are reasons Mahon might it opportune for him to disappear.  Eduardo was there for Kate and Curran.  They will have to play politics, from outside the Pack and in general society, to find him.

Kate and Curran have their own problems.  They are running out of money. The Pack can’t buy Curran out of his Pack investments, and are pressing him to take their shares of The Mercenary Guild as a compromise.  The Guild, however, is a sinking ship.  When it was left without Solomon Red, their leader, they let go of the administrative and cleaning staff.  No one is securing contracts for work, and the members are trying to plunder the pension fund. …On top of all this Kate’s father, the all-powerful harbinger of doom, wants to get to know the family.  Kate’s walking a tightrope.

She has magic of ancient and horrifying lineage and is a master with a blade, but Kate doesn’t take direction well.  She runs into danger without thinking.  She is blindly loyal despite having learned to abandon all attachments.  Her warped childhood taught her to survive at all cost.  She is stubborn, and doesn’t know when to stop speaking.  She isn’t perfect, and life rarely goes according to plan.  Unlike several books who have female heroines/hero’s that obtained their skills without effort or thought, Kate has worked her while life for them. She is still working, scarred, has trust issues, and is funny.  This is a real woman, and Andrews draws their other characters equally real.  In life you may hate your parents but in many situations you’re forced to continue to deal with them.  Ignoring her father doesn’t make him go away.  One of my favorite scenes takes place at Applebees for a dysfunctional family dinner.  Life still happens in post shift Atlanta.

Fans won’t be disappointed.  This is good.  New magic is explored well with Ifrit Jinn.  There is an appropriate return/use of the Mercenary Guild – a humble nod to Kate’s beginnings.  Heavy exploration of responsibility of power, relearning hard lessons, and consequences are strong themes.  It is a book of consequences.  Not all are bad but all have to be acknowledged.  I listened to the audible version of this book narrated by Renee Raudman.  She does a great job especially in the voice and inner dialogue of Kate.  She can do many characters but more than anything her interpretation and expression of emotion in characters, across the series, impresses me.  I equally love to read and listen to this series.

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