Review: ‘Dead Witch Walking’ by Kim Harrison (audio)

In preparation for the February 22, 2011 release of Kim Harrison’s Pale Demon, book #9 in her popular Hollows Series, I’m doing a re-listen of the entire series and I’ve just finished listening to book #1, Dead Witch Walking. The books are quick, fun reads and feature many colorful characters including the main protagonist, sassy witch Rachel Morgan and her new business partners, Ivy (a living vampire) and the ever snarky pixy, Jenks. Marguerite Gavin is the reader (of this book and most of the other Hollows books, though not all) and she’s quite good, despite a habit of tending to pause in the middle of a sentence now and again. Still, I enjoy her reading quite a lot and she’s great at giving each of the characters their own voice. I especially love listening to her read Jenks.

Synopsis of Book #1:

The underground population of witches, vampires, werewolves—creatures of dreams and nightmares—has lived beside humans for centuries, hiding their powers. But after a genetically engineered virus wipes out a large part of humanity, many of the “Inderlanders” reveal themselves, changing everything.

Rachel Morgan, witch and bounty hunter with the Inderland Runner Services, is one of the best at apprehending supernatural lawbreakers throughout Cincinnati, but when it comes to following the rules, she falls desperately short. Determined to buck the system, she quits and takes off on the run with an I.S. contract on her head and is reluctantly forced to team up with Ivy, Inderland’s best runner . . . and a living vampire. But this witch is way out of her league, and to clear her name, Rachel must evade shape-changing assassins, outwit a powerful businessman/crime lord, and survive a vicious underground fight-to-the-death . . . not to mention her own roommate.

 

I found a less than stellar listener review on Audible.com somewhat amusing when it said that women who read Harlequin books would enjoy this book but that he, a reader of Heinlein, certainly did not. I, for one, have never read a Harlequin romance and most likely never will and I enjoyed this book immensely. This listen was my second, after reading the actual book once and I still had a good time and got a lot of laughs out of the story.

Of course, as the series progresses, things get darker and there are many a tear-inducing scene but this first book was fro the most part, light-hearted and fun and definitely a quick and enjoyable listen/read. Also, despite other reader/listener reviews I’ve seen that criticize the main character, Rachel Morgan, I quite like her and find her self-doubt and occasional missteps endearing and believable. Also, to those who would criticize her internal dialogue when looking at a man, of course she checks out the guys! What single twenty-something -be they female or male- doesn’t check out members of the opposite sex and ponder the possibilities in their head? Criticism of this nature is silly, in my opinion; if I like a story, I like it. And I like this one. On to book #2!

“Tweet Me A Story” Contest

In line with Writing About Writing, I’ve just submitted three extremely short stories containing my assigned word (which was “perfect”) for an NYC Midnight contest:

Contest rules for stage 1:

The stories must be no longer than 140 characters, including spaces and punctuation. The assigned word must be spelled exactly as it’s posted. For example, if the assigned word is fast, then variations of fast such as faster, fasting and fastest will not be accepted. Stories may be written any way you like (i.e. poetry, abbreviations, excessive punctuation, etc…), as long as the assigned world is included in its entirety.

 

As the submission deadline has passed, I’m at liberty to share my submissions. Mind you, this was purely for fun and I wrote all three ‘Tweet stories’ within about 15 minutes. I’ll find out if I move on in the contest next Tuesday and I’ll be sure to post a comment here if I’m chosen to continue to Round 2 of the contest.

 

Tweet Story #1

What a lovely day. She was smiling so happily and nary a shadow marred her face. It was the perfect shot. I took aim and pulled the trigger.

Tweet Story #2

As I arrive, I decide to confess my love. We’re perfect for each other after all. Wait, who’s that woman with him and why is he kissing her?

Tweet Story #3

My wedding night is perfect! I’ve waited so long for him. My anticipation peaks as he disrobes. My eyes widen. What the hell IS that thing?!

Review: ‘Side Jobs’ by Jim Butcher (audio)

I’ve just finished listening to Jim Butcher’s Side Jobs, which is a collection of short stories that take place between various books in his series, The Dresden Files. It also includes a novella that takes place immediately after Changes, the 12th and most recent installment in the series which left fans either despairing or howling for more and speculating as to what would happen in book #13, Ghost Story, which is set for an April, 2011 release.

A quick run-down of the book along with a couple of reviews:

Here, together for the first time, are the shorter works of #1 New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher–a compendium of cases that Harry and his cadre of allies managed to close in record time. The tales range from the deadly serious to the absurdly hilarious. Also included is a new, never-before-published novella that takes place after the cliff-hanger ending of the new April 2010 hardcover, Changes. This is a must-have collection for every devoted Harry Dresden fan as well as a perfect introduction for readers ready to meet Chicago’s only professional wizard.

“Witty, fast-moving and well worked-out. Butcher’s yarns go along with the standard supernatural repertory while providing enough twists to keep things fresh and intriguing.” –Kirkus, Starred Review

“Die-hard fans who can’t wait for next year’s Ghost Story will want to rush to the final novella, “Aftermath,” starring Harry’s friend Karrin Murphy, but there are many others here worth reading… Adding value to this title are Butcher’s introductions to each story, filling the reader in on its place in the Dresden-verse time line and offering insight into the author’s intentions.” –Library Journal

Witty, indeed. I’m a big fan of the humor Jim Butcher writes into Harry’s stories and as far as audio books go, I love the way Jim Marsters reads. He infuses so much character into… well, the characters, and instills in them such personality that I much prefer listening over actually reading when it comes to this series. Harry’s many and varied snide comments are a treat to listen to and elicit many a chuckle and to be honest, quite a lot of guffaws, titters and the occasional full blown belly laugh.

Listening to the short stories in this book was like revisiting old friends. Besides the laughter, many tears were warranted on certain stories, namely one featuring Michael Carpenter, Harry’s friend and former Knight of the Cross and another that concerned Harry and Karrin Murphy, who works for Chicago PD’s Special Investigations Unit but most especially, the final addition to the book, Aftermath. The novella takes place immediately after the end of Changes… it literally starts within a couple of hours of Harry plunging into the freezing waters of Lake Michigan.  It’s told from Karrin’s point of view and yeah, I got emotional a few times during the course of the story and it made me very anxious for April, and the release of Ghost Story, to arrive.

In the meantime, I plan another re-listen of the entire Dresden Files series as I must refresh my memories of a few things before April. I’ll be here to write my thoughts on each book as I go.

.

And here they are, in all their spoileriffic glory:

#1 – Storm Front

#2 – Fool Moon

#3 – Grave Peril

#4 – Summer Knight

#5 – Death Masks

#6 – Blood Rites

#7 – Dead Beat

#8 – Proven Guilty

#9 – White Night

#10 – Small Favor

#11 – Turn Coat

#12 – Changes

#13 – Ghost Story

.

Review: ‘Alcatraz Versus The Shattered Lens’ by Brandon Sanderson

Minor spoiler warning!

I picked up Book 4 of Brandon Sanderson‘s Alcatraz series (which his website describes as ” a humorous fantasy series for ages 9-99″) when I arrived home from work this evening. I turned the last page a little while ago. One thing I like about these books is that they’re such quick reads, I finished in an evening despite not actually reading for five hours straight. I even cooked and ate a quick dinner during the course of my read. Another thing I genuinely enjoy about reading Alcatraz Smedry’s autobiography, is how outrageously funny they are. Yes, they’re written for a Young Adult audience but I can assure you that they’re quite enjoyable to read when one is an adult.

Author’s Foreword:

I am an idiot.

You should know this already, if you’ve read the previous three volumes of my autobiography. If, by chance, you haven’t read them, then don’t worry. You’ll get the idea. After all, nothing in this book will make any kind of sense to you. You’ll be confused at the difference between the Free Kingodms and the Hushlands. You’ll wonder why I keep pretending that my glasses are magical. You’ll be baffled by all these insane characters.

(Actually, you’ll probably wonder all of those same things if you start from the beginning too. These books don’t really make a lot of sense, you see. Try living through one of them sometime. Then you’ll know what it really means to be confused.)

Anyway, as I was saying, if you haven’t read the other three books, then don’t bother. That will make this book even more confusing to yu, and that’s exactly what I want. By way of introduction, just let me say this: my name is Alcatraxz Smedry, my Talent is Breaking Things. And I’m stoopid. Really, really stoopid, So stoopid, I don’t know how to spell the word stupid.

This is my story. Or, well, part four of it. Otherwise known as “The part where everything goes wrong, and then Alcatraz has a cheese sandwich.”

Enjoy.

I found myself laughing out loud quite often during the course of this evening and repeatedly wondered at how awesome a writer Brandon Sanderson truly is. He did something in this book that he hasn’t done in any of the previous Alcatraz books and I found it quite brilliant, to be honest. Rather than using the standard chapter headings, such as ‘Chapter 1’, ‘Chapter 2’, etc., Brandon was quite creative with his chapter numbers. Instead of the tired 1, 2, 3 bit… he used things like ‘Π‘ or . Even ‘∞ + 1′. Some of my other favorites were ‘8675309‘, ‘42‘, ‘Act V, Scene III’, ‘24601‘, ‘6.02214179×10^23‘ and ‘NCC-1701‘. Once I reached the pi chapter, which was the third chapter after ‘Chapter 2’ and ‘Chapter 6’, I had to skip ahead and check out all of the chapter headings. I got quite the chuckle out of some of them, most notably Chapter Act V, Scene III during which all of the characters hilariously quoted Shakespeare’s Hamlet. With the exception of one Librarian, who had the wrong tragedy… erm, tragically.

One other absolutely laugh out loud moment came when reading a segment in which Alcatraz was thinking about how awful  his mother really is. Only readers/fans of Robert Jordan’s, and now Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time series will very greatly appreciate this little tidbit, which I will not spoil, as much as I may want to do so. “You? No!”

One thing I found different about Book 4 was the ending, which leaves a major character somewhat incapacitated. It’s rather a cliffhanger and foreshadows the events of the final book in the series which I cannot wait to read! To sum up, I loved this book. It made for quite an enjoyable evening. Brandon really lets his humor run rampant in all of the Alcatraz books, this one especially, and any one of them are quick, fun reads. If you haven’t yet read this or any of the other Alcatraz books I urge you, nay I beg you to do so immediately! Trust me, you’ll thank me for it. In anticipation of your future and most likely, undying gratitude, I say, “You’re most welcome!”

Review: ‘Grass For His Pillow’ by Lian Hearn

The first book I finished reading after the first of the year was Grass For His Pillow, Book 2 of Lian Hearn’s series, Tales of the Otori. Of course, as is customary when reading part of a series of books, I prefaced Book 2 with Book 1, Across The Nightingale Floor. Although I didn’t read Nightingale after the New Year had begun, I feel the need to make some observations about it before continuing with my discussion on Book 2.

 

The synopsis of Across The Nightingale Floor is as follows:

Across the Nightingale Floor is the first of three novels called the Otori Trilogy. Set in an imaginary, ancient Japanese culture, the novel’s hero, 16 year old Takeo, is born into a spiritual people known as the Hidden but discovers his destiny as one of the Tribe—assassins and spies with unusual powers.

As he unknowingly becomes a pawn in a battle between fighting warlords, he learns to make use of his powers and must decide where his loyalties lie. The story of treacherous warlords, political intrigue, and the intensity of first love, in a world ruled by formal ritual and codes of honor, will captivate readers of all ages.


When recently discussing Nightingale with a friend of mine, he described it as a ‘checklist’ and said that he hadn’t continued with his reading because the story hadn’t captured him. While I could see his reasoning for such a description -nobody boy (from literally, nowhere) loses all, vows revenge, discovers awesome powers and becomes something more than he ever thought he could be- it wasn’t something that deterred me from reading and it certainly didn’t disappoint me. If anything, once the basics were out of the way, I was quite intrigued with the story. Perhaps it was the setting, which was based on Classical Japan and drastically different than anything I’ve read. I was fascinated by the descriptions and by the characters. To be brief, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and was happy to move straight on to Book 2.

 

Grass For His Pillow synopsis:

In Book I of the Otori trilogy, Across the Nightingale Floor, Lian Hearn created a wholly original, fully-realized fantasy world where great powers clashed and young love dawned against a dazzling and mystical landscape. Nightingale was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, one of Book magazine’s best novels of the year, and one of School Library Journal’s Best Adult Books for High School Readers.

In this second tale, we return to the story of Takeo-the young orphan taken up by the Otori Lord and now a closely held member of the Tribe-and his beloved Shirakawa Kaede, heir to the Maruyama, who must find a way to unify the domain she has inherited. In a complex social hierarchy, amid dissembling clans and fractured alliances, there is no place for passionate love…


 

I burned through this book even faster than Nightingale. I was so caught up in it that I was actually surprised when I got to the end. Surprised and deeply chagrined, since I don’t happen to own Book 3 yet! Despite trying to read Kaede’s points of view quickly in order to get back to Takeo’s as I often did during Nightingale, while reading Grass I began to appreciate Kaede’s character much more. Her longing for a home and family that had not seen in over half her life; her sadness at the state her household had fallen into prior to her return; her determination to prove that a woman is as capable as a man… all of these things made her more believable than she had been in Nightingale and made me, as a reader, much more invested in her future and her fate.

 

I was also impressed with Takeo as he matured during the course of this book, and with his decision about who he was going to be. Despite the ramifications of his actions, he did what he knew he had to do, both at Hagi and at Terayama, and he’ll face the consequences when they come. When they do, he’ll most likely triumph, anyway.