I don’t post often enough about what I’m reading or have read lately. In general my taste runs to mystery and fantasy with romantic elements, but interesting characters will always draw me in. And most of my books are things that were published a while back that I just got around to picking up or that I’ve finally grabbed out of the massive TBR piles of physical books on the shelf by my reading chair or the long list on my Kindle.
But I’ve had a good run in the last couple of months, so I wanted to share a few of the better-than-average books I’ve read.
The first is the latest from one of only three or four authors I routinely buy in hardcover: Jim Butcher. His most recent release, Skin Game, is a very worthy release to the Harry Dresden series. If you haven’t read the Harry Dresden books already, I highly recommend them. But don’t start with this one. You’ll enjoy this much more if you go back and start with the first book, Storm Front, and read the series in order.
Skin Game is sort of side trip in the Dresden universe. It doesn’t forward the overall plot arc of the series very much, but like every book in the series it shows Harry growing, not just as a wizard but as a man, and coming to terms with the limits of what he can do, the compromises he has to make, and the losses that are an inevitable part of fighting the demons. The book is more of a caper story within the Dresden universe and what a caper it is! When Queen Mab makes a deal with an arch-demon for Harry’s services, he knows it’s not going to be anywhere near as simple as it sounds, and every bit as awful, if not even more. There’s dealing and double-dealing and then there are whole new levels of betrayal and unexpected alliances. Mix that with Harry’s sardonic humor and hilarious one-liners and you’ve got a recipe for a book you won’t want to put done, even when you’ve reached the end.
I picked up the book Spellcast by Barbara Ashford in a used bookstore based entirely on the cover and then bought it because the blurb hooked me with its promised combination of magic and musical theater. My mother adored musical theater, and the recordings of classics like Showboat, South Pacific, My Fair Lady, Annie, Get Your Gun, and others, were the soundtrack of my childhood. The book didn’t disappoint. The brief blurb on Amazon doesn’t really do the story justice.
“When Maggie Graham lost her job and her apartment fell to pieces, she decided to flee New York City for a while and hide in Vermont, at the Crossroads Theatre. She hadn’t planned to audition, yet soon found herself part of the summer stock cast. But her previous acting experiences couldn’t prepare her for the theater’s unusual staff-and its handsome, almost otherworldly director.”
The magic, mystery, characters and romance are mixed in a lovely stew with surprising depth. The story was very different from anything I’d read recently (in a good way). It reminded me of some Sarah Addison Allen’s books. But the ending was a bit of a let-down until I realized it wasn’t the ending at all.
Naturally I immediately order the sequel, Spellcrossed. The second book wasn’t quite as good as the first, partly due to the fact that many of the more intriguing mysteries had already been resolved, and partly because the focus was less on Maggie’s relationship with all the other characters, than on her relationship with one (not the love interest) and working through her personal demons. Nonetheless it was still one of the better books I’ve read this year.
Then there is The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn. I’ve found Raybourn’s books hit or miss. The Dark Enquiry was a hit but just barely. I loved the first few books in the Lady Julia Grey series. Some of the magic went out of the writing and storytelling once the issues between Julia and Nicholas Brisbane, now her husband, were resolved. In this one it felt like the author went out of her way to create tension between them mostly by having Julia do stupid things. (Not that she hadn’t in previous stories, but it seemed like she was growing up a bit.) I enjoyed the second half more than the first.
I’ve also read the short Lady Julia Christmas story by Deanna Raybourn, Twelth Night. This one is definitely more about relationships – Julia’s relationships with her family members, and with her husband. The mystery plot is shallow and quickly resolved, but the resolution marks a clear turning point in the lives of Julia and her husband. It should be interesting to see where Raybourn goes with this.
Faerie Blood by Angela Korat’ti was a very enjoyable romp through an urban fantasy universe set in Washington state. The plotting and characterization aren’t deep or twisty, but it’s interesting throughout with enough twists, turns, danger, monsters and unexpected allies to keep me intrigued and reading.