Take A Peek Book Review: Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson, #11) by Patricia Briggs

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

In this powerful entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling series, Mercy Thompson must face a deadly enemy to defend all she loves…

My name is Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, and I am a car mechanic.

And a coyote shapeshifter.

And the mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack.

Even so, none of that would have gotten me into trouble if, a few months ago, I hadn’t stood upon a bridge and taken responsibility for the safety of the citizens who lived in our territory. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. It should have only involved hunting down killer goblins, zombie goats, and an occasional troll. Instead, our home was viewed as neutral ground, a place where humans would feel safe to come and treat with the fae.

The reality is that nothing and no one is safe. As generals and politicians face off with the Gray Lords of the fae, a storm is coming and her name is Death.

But we are pack, and we have given our word.

We will die to keep it.

My Thoughts:

Mercy is back home in the Tri-Cities, and that means peace and quiet are pretty much out of the question. There’s never a dull moment for the Columbia Basin pack, so when black witches come to town intent on harvesting nasty power and preventing a peace negotiation between the human and fae governments, Mercy is forced to intervene in a big way.

Eleven books in, the Mercy series is as strong as ever, with more of our beloved characters, some fun lighter moments, and plenty of danger and action. Here, we learn more about a newer pack member and his mysterious past, as well as seeing the ongoing fall-out of Mercy’s declaration (a couple of books ago) that the werewolves would provide sanctuary in their territory to all who seek it.

We get some lovely Mercy and Adam moments too, which just warm my heart, and gain new insights into supporting characters such as Wulfe, Tad, Mary Jo, and Larry the goblin king. (And yes, his name is really Larry. I know.)

This series is just so wonderful. I hope Patricia Briggs never stops writing about Mercy… and I promise never to stop reading about Mercy… or the rest of the wolves… or Charles and Anna… or anyone else in this terrific urban fantasy world.

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The details:

Title: Storm Cursed (Mercy Thompson, #11)
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace
Publication date: March 7, 2019
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased

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Take A Peek Book Review: That Ain’t Witchcraft (InCryptid, #8) by Seanan McGuire

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Crossroads, noun:

1. A place where two roads cross.
2. A place where bargains can be made.
3. See also “places to avoid.”

Antimony Price has never done well without a support system. As the youngest of her generation, she has always been able to depend on her parents, siblings, and cousins to help her out when she’s in a pinch—until now. After fleeing from the Covenant of St. George, she’s found herself in debt to the crossroads and running for her life. No family. No mice. No way out.

Lucky for her, she’s always been resourceful, and she’s been gathering allies as she travels: Sam, fūri trapeze artist turned boyfriend; Cylia, jink roller derby captain and designated driver; Fern, sylph friend, confidant, and maker of breakfasts; even Mary, ghost babysitter to the Price family. Annie’s actually starting to feel like they might be able to figure things out—which is probably why things start going wrong again.

New Gravesend, Maine is a nice place to raise a family…or make a binding contract with the crossroads. For James Smith, whose best friend disappeared when she tried to do precisely that, it’s also an excellent place to plot revenge. Now the crossroads want him dead and they want Annie to do the dirty deed. She owes them, after all.

And that’s before Leonard Cunningham, aka, “the next leader of the Covenant,” shows up…

It’s going to take everything Annie has and a little bit more to get out of this one. If she succeeds, she gets to go home. If she fails, she becomes one more cautionary tale about the dangers of bargaining with the crossroads.

But no pressure.

My Thoughts:

Seanan McGuire can pretty much do no wrong in my worldview, and That Ain’t Witchcraft is a prime example of why. The InCryptid series is relatively light-hearted, although bad things do happen, but overall these books maintain a whimsical, wise-ass feel that keeps the mood more on the fun end of the urban fantasy spectrum.

Eight books in, the series continues to rock and roll. The beauty (or I really should say, one of the beauties) of this series is the focus on the sprawling Price family, which gives the author plenty of characters to share the spotlight from book to book. So far, we’ve had three books with Verity as the lead, two with Alex, and now three with Antimony, the baby sister of the family. (I understand that the spotlight will be moving to a different family member in book #9 — I’m already on pins and needles to see what happens next!)

That Ain’t Witchcraft continues from the ending of book #7, Tricks For Free, with Antimony and friends on the run from the Covenant, the globally powerful cryptid-hating organization that would also like to track down and annihilate the entire Price clan. Looking for a hideout where they can rest and catch their breaths for a while, Antimony and the gang instead find themselves in a small town with a big problem involving the crossroads, the otherworldy entity that makes bargains that never seem to work out well for the human side.

The writing, as always in Seanan McGuire books, is snappy and snarky and full of pop-culture references and overall geekiness, and I love it all to bits. Random example:

“He’s a delicate boy. He doesn’t need some loose woman coming from out of town and getting him all confused.”

I blinked. “I… what? I don’t know whether to be more offended by you calling James ‘delicate’ or you calling me ‘loose.’ I assure you, I am the opposite of a loose woman. I’m a tightly wound, sort of prickly woman. Hermione Granger is my Patronus.”

Need I say more? In case it’s not perfectly obvious, the 8th book in an ongoing series is NOT the place to start. So, I encourage you to go find a copy of book #1, Discount Armageddon, and dive in. If you’re like me, you’ll be hooked, and will want to keep going until you’ve gobbled up all eight books and are panting for more.

InCryptids rule. Check out this series!

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The details:

Title: That Ain’t Witchcraft (InCryptid series, book #8)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Series wrap-up: The Beka Cooper trilogy by Tamora Pierce

Last year, I began a journey through the lands of Tortall, the incredibly rich and exciting fantasy world created by Tamora Pierce. This year, I continued the adventure by listening to the audiobooks of the Beka Cooper trilogy — and now that I’ve finished, I thought I’d share some thoughts.

The Beka Cooper books take place about 150 years before the beginning of the Song of the Lioness quartet, Tamora Pierce’s first Tortall books, which introduce the young squire who would grow up to become Lady Knight Alanna. The Beka books were published after the Alanna, Daine, Kel, and Aly books, yet they are chronologically the first books in terms of the kingdom of Tortall. I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure about going back into the kingdom’s past and the pre-Alanna days… but I can tell you now that these books are very much worth it!

Beka Cooper herself is a wonderful lead character, everything we could hope for in a young female protagonist. In terms of how these books relate to the (chronologically) later books in the Tortall universe, Beka is George Cooper’s ancestor. That’s about all you need to know, but it does tie together quite nicely.

The story of Beka Cooper:

 

In book #1, Terrier, Beka is a young woman just starting out as a “puppy” (trainee) in the Provost’s Guard — the kingdom’s law enforcement department, whose members are referred to as “dogs”. Beka is smart and strong, from the poorest neighborhood of the capital city of Corus, raised in poverty until she and her siblings became wards of the Lord Provost himself, Lord Gershom. As an untested puppy, Beka is paired with Tunstall and Goodwin, two highly respected and experienced dogs, and before long she proves herself in a variety of street fights and arrests. Besides her fighting skills and sharp eye for clues, Beka has a touch of magic: She converses with the spirits of the dead, who come to her attached to the city’s pigeons, and she can also converse with dust spinners — the funnels of swirling dust that show up on street corners, collecting and then sharing with Beka the random bits of conversation they pick up from passers-by. Over the course of her puppy year, Beka becomes embroiled in a life-threatening search for a murderer, digging into the corruption polluting the highest levels of money and power in the lower city.

In the 2nd book, Bloodhound, Beka is no longer a puppy but a fully qualified dog. Here, she is assigned with her partner Clary Goodwin to track down the influx of counterfeit coins that threaten to undermine the entire kingdom. Beka goes on the hunt with Goodwin to track down the counterfeiters, along the way making enemies of the criminal kingpin of a nearby town, but also finding herself romantically involved with a handsome gambler who may or may not be trustworthy.

Finally, in book #3, Mastiff, we rejoin Beka a few years later, still working as a dog and with the reputation of being one of the most talented and determined. She’s committed to fighting injustice and keeping people safe, especially those who can’t fight for themselves. When an attack is made on the royal family, Beka and Tunstall are sent out to track the evildoers, in a case that involves high treason and the realm’s most dangerous and powerful mages.

These books are long and complicated… and I just can’t say enough good things about them! My daughter has pushed me to read them for years, but the first few times I picked up Terrier, I was put off by the language. Tamora Pierce gives her characters a street language that’s rich and flavorful, but which at first glance seemed too out-there to me. When I finally gave it a chance, though, I ended up loving it. Probably listening to the audiobooks helped — I was able to get the feel of the words and their rhythm without getting too stuck on reading written dialect. It’s helpful, though, to keep a hard copy of the books on hand even if listening to the audio version, since the printed books include a glossary at the back, and it’s essential, especially when first entering Beka’s world.

Beyond the amazing language of the books, Beka herself is a wonderful character. Like many of Pierce’s heroines, she has an affinity for animals, and cat Pounce and dog Achoo become major characters in their own way over the course of the three books. Likewise, the supporting characters are fully developed, so we’re left in no doubt about their essences, values, skills, etc — except for the cases where someone’s motive are meant to be questionable, of course.

Pierce doesn’t shy away from sexual relationships, although thankfully she doesn’t seem to feel the need to give us anatomy lessons. Beka and others have sexual relationships as part of their natural lives, not a big deal, no moralizing or agonizing over whether to do it or not. Young women like Beka get charms to prevent pregnancy when they become sexually active, and that’s that. No fuss, no muss. Beka retains full agency over her body and her choices, and it’s a low-key message of empowerment that’s woven into the overall story.

By setting the books so much earlier than the other Tortallian books, we get a glimpse of how certain facets of life in the later (chronologically; earlier by publishing date) books came about. In the Beka books, women are well represented in law enforcement as well as among the knighthood — yet in the Alanna books, it’s considered unheard of for women to become knights, something that hasn’t happened in centuries. So how did the kingdom go from a fairly progressive stance toward women in combat or physical roles toward the idea that women must be proper ladies relegated to fashion, etiquette, embroidery, and other ladylike pursuits? We get a hint of the origins of this change in Mastiff, as Beka travels to one of the kingdom’s fiefdoms where the cult of the Gentle Mother seems to be taking hold — setting the standard that fighting is for men and that women’s greatest joy lies in hearth and home. Likewise, we see how the kingdom moves from a land that tolerates the slave trade to one where slavery is outlawed, thanks to the events initiated in this trilogy. It’s really fascinating to see the seeds here for the changes that are so apparent in the books set later in the kingdom’s history.

The audiobooks are narrated by Susan Denaker, who does an amazing job with the character voices, capturing the regional accents of characters from different geographical and ethnic backgrounds, as well as the language and slang differences in the dialogue of characters from different social strata, from street thugs to children of lower city slums to the nobility and even royalty.

Lots of Beka books in my house!

I really, truly adored getting to know Beka, who instantly jumped onto my ever-growing list of favorite fictional characters of all time. I’m absolutely loving my adventures in the world created by Tamora Pierce. Fortunately, I still have a few books to go!

Want to read my other Tortall series wrap-up posts? Here are the links:
Song of the Lioness (Alanna)
The Immortals (Daine)
Protector of the Small (Kel)
Daughter of the Lioness (Aly)

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Book details:

Terrier – published 2006
Bloodhound – published 2009
Mastiff – published 2011
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Take A Peek Book Review: Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega, #5) by Patricia Briggs

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

In her bestselling Alpha and Omega series, Patricia Briggs “spins tales of werewolves, coyote shifters, and magic and, my, does she do it well” (USATODAY.com). Now mated werewolves Charles Cornick and Anna Latham face a threat like no other–one that lurks too close to home…

They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.

With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn…

My Thoughts:

I love this series, and I love Anna and Charles as characters. I love their complicated relationship — as husband and wife, and as mated werewolves. I love their pack, and I love their interactions with Charles’s father Bran, the ruler of all werewolves of North America.

Despite my undying love for the Alpha & Omega books, Burn Bright felt a little weaker to me than some of the other books in the series. Perhaps it’s just that the story took a bit too long to really build momentum, or maybe it’s because Anna and Charles have been together long enough that their relationship here seems like more of a given, rather than something to be explored. In any case, while I enjoyed the story and my “reunion” with these beloved characters, the plot and pacing felt like a little bit less than what I’ve come to expect from this outstanding series.

Side note (without spoilers!): There’s a certain conversation early on in the book that has fans of this series (and the Mercy-verse as a whole) very up in arms. Yes, I also found it upsetting… but I guess I’m busy compartmentalizing and deciding that I’m going to ignore it, because otherwise it will make me feel differently about people I don’t want to feel differently about. Ugh, why???

Okay, beyond “the conversation” controversy riling up Briggs’s readers…

I raced through Burn Bright in about 24 hours, was very hooked by the end, and will absolutely read each and every book in the Alpha & Omega series (and Mercy Thompson too) for as long as Patricia Briggs chooses to keep writing them… which I hope will be for a long, long time.

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The details:

Title: Burn Bright
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace
Publication date: March 6, 2018
Length: 308 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased

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Audiobook awesomeness: His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

Over the last two months, I’ve had one of my most delightful experiences with audiobooks. I decided to revisit the world of the His Dark Materials trilogy, since (a) it’s been many, many years since I read the books, and (b) a new book is coming out this fall. (THIS WEEK! NOW!!!)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 17 years (!!) since the publication of The Amber Spyglass, the 3rd book in the trilogy (following The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife). I remember being blown away by these books upon first read, but after all these years, I was fuzzy on the details.

Side note: I choose to disregard the existence of the Golden Compass movie, which utterly failed to capture the essence of the books and characters. But that’s an issue best left in the past…

So what was so special about these audiobooks?

For starters, they’re full-cast recordings. Oddly enough, full-cast audiobooks don’t usually appeal to me. When I’ve tried them before, I tend to feel removed from the story — maybe because it’s more like listening to a dramatization than like reading an actual book.

Whatever the reason, this time around, I just loved it. Philip Pullman takes the role of narrator, and he’s marvelous. His reading of his own work is nuanced and expressive, and he infuses his lines with wit, humor, and when needed, sorrow and intensity. Beyond Pullman himself, the rest of the cast is simply terrific. I don’t know who these voice actors are, but their talent is huge! The voice of Lyra was perfect — young, intense, brave, emotional — and Will was spot-on too, fierce, loving, worried, daring. Probably most magnificent was the voice of Iorek Byrnison — I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a deep, rumbly voice on an audiobook. If a polar bear could speak English and deigned to have a conversation with one of us puny humans, I bet that’s exactly what he’d sound like. Other stand-outs are the voices of Texas aeronaut Lee Scoresby and the often wicked but strangely sympathetic Mrs. Coulter.

Now, if you’ve read these books, you know that an important part of Pullman’s world building is the presence of daemons — a corporeal, animal being who represents each person’s true inner being. Every human in Lyra’s world has a daemon, and the shape they take is often quite representative of the nature of the person. Children’s daemon’s can change shape at will, until they child reaches puberty, at about which time the daemon settles into his or her final shape. Worth noting, too, is that a daemon is always the opposite gender of the person it’s attached to — so Lyra’s daemon Pantalaimon is male. On the audiobooks, the daemons who have speaking roles are voiced in ways completely appropriate to their personalities. The absolute best is Lee’s daemon Hester, a jackrabbit with a feminine Western twang.

As for the story, I’m kind of assuming that anyone bothering to read this post is already familiar with the amazing world of His Dark Materials. For those who aren’t familiar, here are the brief plot summaries from Goodreads:

Book 1 – The Golden Compass (also published under the title Northern Lights):

Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. In this multilayered narrative, however, nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the alethiometer. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called “Gobblers”—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons, creatures that reflect each person’s inner being. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved.

Book 2 – The Subtle Knife:

Lost in a new world, Lyra finds Will—a boy on the run, a murderer—a worthy and welcome ally. For this is a world where soul-eating Specters stalk the streets and witches share the skies with troops of angels.

Each is searching—Lyra for the meaning of Dark Matter, Will for his missing father—but what they find instead is a deadly secret, a knife of untold power. And neither Lyra nor Will suspects how tightly their lives, their loves, and their destinies are bound together… until they are split apart.

Book 3 – The Amber Spyglass:

The Amber Spyglass brings the intrigue of The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife to a heart-stopping end, marking the final volume of His Dark Materials as the most powerful of the trilogy.

Along with the return of Lyra, Will, Mrs. Coulter, Lord Asriel, Dr. Mary Malone, and Iorek Byrnison the armored bear, come a host of new characters: the Mulefa, mysterious wheeled creatures with the power to see Dust; Gallivespian Lord Roke, a hand-high spymaster to Lord Asriel; and Metatron, a fierce and mighty angel. So, too, come startling revelations: the painful price Lyra must pay to walk through the land of the dead, the haunting power of Dr. Malone’s amber spyglass, and the names of who will live–and who will die–for love. And all the while, war rages with the Kingdom of Heaven, a brutal battle that–in its shocking outcome–will uncover the secret of Dust. Philip Pullman deftly brings the cliff-hangers and mysteries of His Dark Materials to an earth-shattering conclusion–and confirms his fantasy trilogy as an undoubted and enduring classic.

It’s funny how certain things stick in your mind — or my mind, anyway. I absolutely remembered about Dust and daemons, about Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, the Mulefa, Metatron, and more. What I didn’t remember was the sheer power of this story. What starts out feeling mostly like a children’s book (albeit a children’s book with gifted-level vocabulary) by the end has transformed into an epic tale that shares universal truths about love, honesty, the nature of good and evil, devotion, betrayal, friendship, and freedom.

The emotional impact by the end is enormous. I clearly remembered being devastated by the end of the trilogy, and yet I was still pretty much hit over the head with an anvil all over again while listening by the intensity of the heart-ache the characters experience. It’s simply lovely and tragic and uplifting, all at the same time.

As an added bonus, Pullman later published two shorter works set in the same world: Lyra’s Oxford, which takes place two years after the conclusion of The Amber Spyglass, and Once Upon a Time in the North, which is set about 35 years earlier, showing the first eventful meeting of Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison. Both of these novellas are available as audiobooks, and like the main trilogy, are highly enriched by the full-cast recording. (It’s definitely worth getting the hard copies as well, as the physical editions include wonderful woodcut illustrations and all sorts of bits and pieces of ephemera related to His Dark Materials — writing scraps, maps, ballooning guides, postcards, and even a board game.)

Finally, there’s a short story available either as an e-book or audiobook. The Collectors is very creepy, and I’d say listen to the audio version. Bill Nighy does a fabulous job with the narration, and it only takes about a half hour, but is definitely worth it.

I realize that this is by no means a comprehensive book review of His Dark Materials and the associated works. And it’s not meant to be. Really, I’ve just gotten completely swept away by these wonderful audiobooks, and I couldn’t keep it to myself a moment longer!

Especially for anyone thinking about reading the upcoming new release, La Belle Sauvage, going back to His Dark Materials via audiobook will be a huge treat, absolutely worth the time.

Needless to say, for anyone who hasn’t read these books at all yet, please do! His Dark Materials is one of those trilogies usually shelved with children’s fiction, but which truly transcends the age or genre labels. These books are just plain good fantasy literature; they transport us to multiple alternate worlds but never lose their human heart.

 

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Books in the series:
The Golden Compass (1995)
The Subtle Knife (1997)
The Amber Spyglass (2000)
Lyra’s Oxford (2003)
Once Upon a Time in the North (2008)
The Collectors (2014)
NEW: La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, book 1) – to be released 10/19/2017

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Dramatic plot vs. happily-ever-after: The perils of emotional investment

Fear. Anxiety. Dread.

And it’s all the fault of fictional characters.

I have a tendency to binge when I get into something new, TV or books, and then — oh my stars — it’s so hard to separate. Because what happens when you fall in love with characters, but then have to witness them going through hell? All I want to do is scoop them up and keep them safe, but that’s not the way good stories work.

Clearly, I have a problem.

Take my newest obsession, The Walking Dead. Yes, I am super late to the party, but thanks to finally getting Netflix (again, super late to the party), I’ve been indulging. I started The Walking Dead, season 1 episode 1, in mid-May, and apart from a couple of weeks while I was out of town, have been watching the series straight through. So here I am, a month and a half later, slightly past the middle of season 6, and while I can’t wait to see what happens next, part of me wants to just walk away.

[SPOILERS AHEAD! FOR EPISODES THAT AIRED OVER A YEAR AGO, BUT STILL — SPOILERS!]

I’m at a place in the story where, as usual, the characters’ lives were hanging by a thread. Their supposedly safe haven, where they can finally build a life for themselves and plan for the future, has been overrun by hordes of the undead. All seems doomed, but finally, there’s this totally awesome battle scene (truly, a thing of beauty), and the good guys win! What follows is one of the most chill episodes ever, taking place a few weeks later, where everyone is safe again, rebuilding, relaxing, and starting to make things better.

Guys, they’re smiling! Rick and Daryl are out on a supply run and it’s actually funny! There’s even a sexy, romantic scene! (No, not Rick and Daryl.)

Man, I’m loving this show. I adore Rick Grimes. I want to cuddle Daryl Dixon (after a good bath, maybe). Carl is the cutest. Michonne is a total bad-ass with a heart of gold. And this is where my over-investment comes into play.

Because part of me wants to turn off the TV, pretend that’s the last episode, and walk away. Because then THEY’D ALL LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER. And I wouldn’t have to watch all these people I love get tortured again and again. No going hungry. No machete-ing walkers through the brain. No fighting off evil human attackers.

Imagine the possibilities, though, if everyone got to stay happy. The Walking Dead could become a sitcom, with charming little conflicts — uh oh! Craziness ensues when Carol’s favorite knife goes missing! Little Judith’s first word is “walker”, and it’s adorable! Abraham runs a fitness class, and Eugene is his best student! And don’t get me started on Rick Grimes and all the possibilities for him as the cool dad whose teenage son has an attitude.

Anyway…

This can’t be, obviously. Dramatic tension is necessary for good storytelling. If everyone on The Walking Dead remained safe in Alexandria behind secure walls, with enough food and medical equipment to lead healthy, safe lives, the story would be over. It’s wonderful for the characters, of course, but there would be nothing further to keep the show going.

Likewise in books. Let’s take my favorite series, Outlander (duh). These characters never get a break. Yes, there are plenty of happy moments, and plenty of swoonworthy scenes of Claire and Jamie basking in each others’ arms after a blissful night of lovemaking… but things just never go well for long. These folks are in the middle of a war, always. There’s always some bad guy or another lurking around the corner, ready to kidnap, shoot at, plot against, or otherwise cause harm to our beloved characters.

[SPOILER AHEAD — MILD — FOR OUTLANDER SERIES]

Book #7 in the series, An Echo in the Bone, ends with not just one, but 4 or 5 major cliffhangers. The agony of waiting years for the next book while pretty much everyone is in jeopardy! Flash forward a few years to Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (book #8), and after 145 chapters, everyone we care about ends up in a pretty good place. Yes, there are some small questions left unanswered but (spoiler) Jamie and Claire and Brianna and Roger and Ian and Rachel and, well, everyone, are safe and happy and together!

Part of me wanted to just say to Diana Gabaldon — okay, great! Stop now! Let these people live out the rest of their days in the peace and comfort and love they all deserve!

But no. I need and want and crave more of the story, and book #9 is in the works… and what would an Outlander book be if everyone was safe and happy all the time? So while I can’t wait for a publication date to finally be announced, I’m also dreading diving back in and finding out what hideous new dangers await my beloved Claire and Jamie and the rest of their family up on Fraser’s Ridge.

So, am I crazy for wanting my favorite characters — TV or books — to just get a chance to be happy?

We all love happily-ever-afters, right? But they just don’t make for great storytelling. There’s a reason most fairy tales don’t continue past the HEA. We can be happy for people who find happiness, but stories are driven by tension, suspense, conflict, and crisis. If there’s no obstacle to overcome and everybody just enjoys mundane daily lives, what more do we need to know?

Sigh.

I know that great drama demands all of the above. As for The Walking Dead — well, hell yes, I’m going to keep going. And I’ve stumbled across enough spoilers before I started watching the show to know that VERY BAD things are coming soon for characters I care about, and I’m going to end up heartbroken once again.

In the choice between walking away at a happy moment or continuing with a story I love despite the unhappiness to come, there’s no question — I’ll always choose to continue.

But isn’t it nice to daydream about a life in which Carl Grimes’s greatest worry is about impressing a girl, and not fighting for survival while covered in zombie guts?

Book Review: Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs

In the #1 New York Times bestselling Mercy Thompson novels, the coyote shapeshifter has found her voice in the werewolf pack. But when Mercy’s bond with the pack and her mate is broken, she’ll learn what it truly means to be alone…

Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe…

Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise…

It’s Mercy! It’s Adam! Need I say more?

I’m not sure why I even attempt to write reviews for the books in this series. Because really, all I basically want to say is:

I LOVE THIS SERIES! I LOVE THESE CHARACTERS! IT’S 100% CERTAIN THAT I WILL LOVE EVERY BOOK IN THIS SERIES.

What more do you need to know?

Okay, trying to calm myself now…

Silence Fallen is the 10th book in the amazing, wonderful, and highly addictive Mercy Thompson series, written by the incredibly talented (and fortunately for us, very prolific) Patricia Briggs.

Each book in the series builds upon those that came earlier. Over the course of the series, we’ve seen Mercy find her place in the werewolf pack, assert her own standing among the not-entirely-welcoming wolves, and discover more and more about her own powers and talents. Through it all, we’ve seen her relationship with Alpha werewolf Adam develop from irritating acquaintance to flirtatious ally to a deep and abiding love.

I love Mercy, by the way. In case that wasn’t clear. She’s strong, she’s a fighter, she speaks up for herself, she defends those who need protection, she’s a good and loyal friend… and yet she’s also a vulnerable woman who has had to deal with some majorly awful blows throughout her life.

In Silence Fallen, Mercy and Adam become separated early on due to a vicious kidnapping — and not only are they physically separated, but their psychic bond as mates seems to be broken too. THIS SUCKS. If you’ve read these books, you know about the power of the mating bond and the pack bonds. The idea of these being damaged is terrifying!

Patricia Briggs plays some interesting games with the story in this book. As the couple are apart for most of the story, their chapters are distinct as well — some from Mercy’s point of view, some from Adam’s. In addition, the timeline twists a little bit, with the chapters not necessarily describing events in the proper order. (Don’t worry, it all makes sense once you read it.)

Meanwhile, the settings include Milan and Prague, and Mercy and the gang end up dealing with a whole range of foes and allies, including nasty vampires, varied werewolf packs, witches, goblins, and a very old mystical being that I won’t say more about. (Read the book. You’ll see.)

My only teeny little complaint about Silence Fallen is that Mercy and Adam spend about 90% of it apart, and therefore we don’t get to see their amazing chemisty. Also as a result of the separation, we don’t get much of Mercy’s interactions with the pack — always entertaining — or the internal pack dynamics that add to the fantastic world-building of the series.

Listen, if you’re a Mercy fan, then you’re going to read Silence Fallen. And if you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mercy yet, I strongly suggest dropping everything else and starting the series from the beginning.

One more thing about Silence Fallen, and I only mention this because I’ve already seen it hinted at in most other reviews I’ve seen so far: This book has an amazing (and pretty adorable) twist in it that just absolutely delighted me. I’m not saying anything else about it. But just know that it’s super fun and awesome and — if you’re a fan — you’ll love this little surprise.

Convinced yet? Go read some Mercy!!!

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The details:

Title: Silence Fallen
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace Books
Publication date: March 7, 2017
Length: 371 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased

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Take A Peek Book Review: Secondhand Souls

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Secondhand Souls

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

In San Francisco, the souls of the dead are mysteriously disappearing—and you know that can’t be good—in New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore’s delightfully funny sequel to A Dirty Job.

Something really strange is happening in the City by the Bay. People are dying, but their souls are not being collected. Someone—or something—is stealing them and no one knows where they are going, or why, but it has something to do with that big orange bridge. Death Merchant Charlie Asher is just as flummoxed as everyone else. He’s trapped in the body of a fourteen-inch-tall “meat” waiting for his Buddhist nun girlfriend, Audrey, to find him a suitable new body to play host.

To get to the bottom of this abomination, a motley crew of heroes will band together: the seven-foot-tall death merchant Minty Fresh; retired policeman turned bookseller Alphonse Rivera; the Emperor of San Francisco and his dogs, Bummer and Lazarus; and Lily, the former Goth girl. Now if only they can get little Sophie to stop babbling about the coming battle for the very soul of humankind…

The author with "squirrel people". Image via wunc.org

Christopher Moore with “squirrel people”.
Image via wunc.org

My Thoughts:

Here’s a slightly edited version of what I wrote on Goodreads:

I’ll just say it: Christopher Moore can pretty much do no wrong. Take his earlier books: Enormous lizards? Artificial whales? Stupid angels and Jesus? Shakespeare, Impressionist painters… you get the drift. For ultra-weird but extremely funny (and even touching) stories, you really can’t beat the Author Guy’s books.

Secondhand Souls is a sequel to A Dirty Job, which is an awesomely hilarious, entertaining, occasionally crude, always crazy tale — and Secondhand Souls lives up to it, not quite perfectly, but awfully darn close. The characters we love are back, in different places in their lives (and even in different bodies), but still themselves. Plus, there are some memorable new characters, including a Golden Gate Bridge painter named Mike, a mysterious man dressed all in yellow, a lovesick ghost, and a banshee with a fondness for tasers, among others.

San Francisco itself is a star, and seeing such a crazy adventure unfold in our beloved city is at least half the fun.

Who am I kidding? It’s all fun. The logic of the story gets a little thin at times, and forget about character development: We’re plopped down into the lives of the characters from A Dirty Job, and either you remember them or you don’t. But, it doesn’t really matter. If you’re a Christopher Moore fan, you need to read this. And if you’ve never had the pleasure, I’d say put this one on hold and read (at least) A Dirty Job — and possibly a few others — before picking up Secondhand Souls.

 

And for a more articulate review, here’s what my friend Heidi had to say about it:

Of all Christopher Moore’s novels, which range from the adolescent and ridiculous (Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings) to the pretty much perfect (Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal), the ones that Charlie Asher lives in are my favorites. Secondhand Souls is of course the sequel to A Dirty Job, which introduced us to Charlie, beta male junk shop owner, and the hidden world of the Death Merchants. (Also: a devastatingly cool record-shop owner called Minty Fresh, a toddler who may-or-may-not be Death and her pet Hellhounds, Lily the PerkyGoth, Audrey the Buddhist nun, The Emperor of San Francisco, The Morrigan and The Squirrel People, among others.) Read that before you read this, or you’ll be really lost. In fact, you probably are already.

With the whole bizarre gang back in play — plus some new additions — Secondhand Souls is not a mere cheesey sequel (though cheez plays a critical role); it’s more like visiting with batshit crazy old friends. Unfortunately for them it turns out, due in large part to the events in A Dirty Job, there’s a dangerous backlog of uncollected souls lurking around San Francisco, and Charlie and friends are once again embroiled in the danger and magical maneuvering that is dealing with the powers of darkness rising. Fortunately, they are more than weird enough to handle the crisis. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I’ll just say it’s hilarious.

Maybe I love these books because they capture San Francisco’s magic in ways that ring true in my heart. It’s like an idealized version of my hometown — in the topography of Moore’s books I basically live across the street from Minty’s shop, and nobody ever has to step over homeless people sleeping in the vestibule. Crazy people are really helpful geniuses, and even normal folks can afford the rents. (I find all this somehow reassuring, as magic is in short supply around here these days.) Also, the characters have more fun talking to each other than anybody ever has had in the history of ever. (Except maybe “The Gilmore Girls.”) For nutty-but-somehow-deep dialogue, you really can’t beat Christopher Moore. 5 whole-hearted, sunny-yet-deeply-morbid stars.

(With thanks to Heidi, for letting me borrow her review! For more awesome Heidi reviews, you can find her here on Goodreads.)

So hey – if you’re new to Christopher Moore, this is not the place to start! Maybe spend some time with Practical Demonkeeping or The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, or even his first novel set in San Francisco, Bloodsucking Fiends. Bask in the absurd and wacky, soak up his crazy but somehow perfect tricks of language, and just enjoy the WTFness of it all. When you’re ready for true brilliance and lots of heart, read Lamb. Or harken back to Shakespeare as you never knew it with Fool and The Serpent of Venice. Uh oh, I feel a Christopher Moore retrospective post coming on! Stay tuned… and meanwhile, get thee to a copy of A Dirty Job as soon as possible.

Going now.

Need a cheez. (Read Secondhand Souls and this will make sense.)

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The details:

Title: Secondhand Souls
Author: Christopher Moore
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: August 25, 2015
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Fiction/Humor/Supernatural
Source: Purchased

Top Ten Tuesday: Hey, what’s up? Top 10 characters I’d like to catch up with…

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Top Ten Characters You’d Like To Check In With (meaning, the book or series is over and you so just wish you could peek in on the “life” you imagine they are leading years down the line after the story ends).

Which characters would I most like to catch up with, see how they’re doing, maybe find out if that Happily-Ever-After really worked out for them in the end? Read on to find out!

[Note: There may be minor spoilers, because how can you talk about what happened after “The End” without referencing the ending?]

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1) Jamie and Claire Fraser, Outlander series: Kind of obvious, since this is where my head is right now. This is the only book/series on my list this week that’s still ongoing… but I’m including Jamie and Claire because it’s been 10 months since the last book came out and I’m dying to know what they’ve been up to since then!

2) Edward and Bella, Twilight series: I’d love to know how a never-ending and never-changing life (with no sleep!) is working out for these two. Is Bella still glad she gave up human life for Edward? Did that little scamp Renesmee grow up and get with Jacob? How’s Edward handling having Jacob as a son-in-law?

3) EVERYONE from the Harry Potter series: I love them all so much. I know J. K. Rowling has released information on how their lives all turned out, but I’d love to visit them all again. I want to see grown-up Harry at home with Ginny, maybe having Ron and Hermione over for Sunday brunch. Is anyone living at the Burrow? How’s Molly Weasley doing? What about Teddy Lupin?

4) Nick and Amy Dunne, Gone Girl: Not a happily ever after by a long shot, and not at all likeable people. I’d love to know, though, how the rest of their lives turned out. Terrifying and awful, I’m sure. What about the baby? Any chance that the kid didn’t grow up to be a psychopath?

5) Eleanor and Park (Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell): I just hope these two managed to reconnect and find happiness, and most of all, I hope that Eleanor finally got a chance at a safe and happy life.

6) Clare and Alba DeTamble, The Time Traveler’s Wife: [SPOILER] I’d love to know that Clare had a good life after Henry’s death, and hope that she found love again. And I’d also love to know how things worked out for Alba, and whether her time traveling was easier, based on all the work and research Henry did.

7) Emilio Sandoz, The Sparrow and Children of Men: After all of the trauma, I hope that Emilio finally found peace and a measure of solace when all of his space travel ended. I’m envisioning him growing old, surrounded by grandchildren, loved and adored. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

8) Tavi and Kitai, Codex Alera series: It certainly seemed as though these two (and others) got the happy ending they deserved, but I imagine that they still have a long life ahead of them as rulers of Alera… and I’m guessing there are still plenty of adventures yet to come.

9) Jane True and Anyan Barghest, Jane True series: I have no doubt that these two are having a marvelous happily-ever-after, but they’re just so much fun to hang out with that I’d like the chance to visit with them again.

10) Matthew and Diana, All Soul’s trilogy: I have no problem with how the trilogy ended, but I enjoyed all of the characters so much that I’d like more of them! I want to know about Matthew and Diana’s children, as well as the rest of the big, extended family. Oh, and let’s not forget Gallowglass!

What characters are on your list this week?

Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider following Bookshelf Fantasies! And don’t forget to check out my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables. Happy reading!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Top Ten Tuesday: My top 10 favorite heroic women in fiction (plus a few extra… )

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is “Top Ten Favorite Heroines From Books (or movies or TV)”.  The term “heroines” suggests a certain amount of adventure and thrilling heroics, and we’ve got plenty of that here. These women (and girls) take the lead, take charge, and are just overall amazing.

We Can Do It

1) Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser (Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon): Claire is the strongest, smartest woman around in any century. Fiercely loyal, dedicated to her friends and family, a gifted scientist, and a passionate lover, Claire’s got it all. Plus, who else do you know who makes home-made penicillin?

2) Mercy Thompson (The Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs): Auto mechanic, martial arts master, magical shape-shifter, and just overall an incredibly brave woman. Definitely the person you’d want on your side when the big baddies come to call.

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3) Lyra (His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman): Lyra is dedicated to her friends, loves adventure, is highly curious, and puts herself at risk even when she’s afraid, if there’s something important on the line.

4) Diana Bishop (All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness): Witch and historian, Diana is a perfect combination of brains and magic.

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5) Cassie Sullivan (The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey): How do you keep going when everything you know is gone? Bravery, commitment to a promise, and a sheer determination to make things right or die trying.

6) Scout Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird): Okay, what’s not to love? Scout is a little Southern tomboy who learned her values from an amazing father. Scout stands up for the people she loves and doesn’t understand injustice. Love her.

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7) Harry Crewe (The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley): Harry goes from sheltered daughter to a wielder of a magical sword and one hell of a horsewoman, among other achievements. She’s a perfect example of a fantasy fiction woman who most definitely is not a damsel in distress.

I want to use the rest of my list to give shout-outs to a few bunches of amazing women:

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8) The women of Fables (by Bill WIllingham): I love just about everything about this graphic novel series, especially the amazing female characters such as Snow White, Rose Red, Cinderella, and Beauty, to name but a few. These are no Disney princesses. Really, if you haven’t read Fables, go get volume one immediately! You’ll be happy you did, I promise.

9) The Stark women (A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin): Arya, Catelyn, even Sansa — all have been through enormous trauma, and manage to hold onto their courage even in the face of unbearable loss and misery.

10) The women of Harry Potter (the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling): Hermione is amazing, but so are Molly Weasley and Minerva McGonagall, not to mention Luna Lovegood, Lily Potter, Nymphadora Tonks, and so many more.

Okay, that’s 10 — but I do want to give three cheers to some of my favorite women on TV right now:

  • Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)
  • Peggy Carter (Agent Carter)
  • Jane Villanueva (Jane the Virgin)
  • Zoe Hart (Hart of Dixie)
  • The women of Black Sails: Eleanor Guthrie, Anne Bonny, and Max. (Does Max have a last name? Couldn’t find it.)

Oh, and one more just because no list of powerful women is complete without the one and only Slayer, Buffy Summers:

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Who are your favorite heroines? Please share your links!

(Note: All images scavenged from miscellaneous Pinterest boards…)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider following Bookshelf Fantasies! And don’t forget to check out my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables. Happy reading!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!