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Untitled Downside Ghosts
Stacia Kane

Premeditated Murder

Premeditated Murder - Slobodan Selenic I absolutely love the Downside series. The word "gritty" might be overused, but this is one where the author's worldbuilding and use of language (I may have started saying things like "whatany") create a world that's gritty and compelling. And so are her characters. Chess is a heroine that's profoundly flawed and knows it, and keeps making mistakes even though she knows the effects they'll ultimately have, and yet it's impossible to stop pulling for her no matter how much she's determined to screw things up for herself to satisfy her own sense of worthlessness. But here, in book 5, the threads of her actions in previous books are coming together, and while Chess is still a mess, she's maybe starting to realize that it's worth making an effort to not push good things out of her life. She's still working for the Church and Bump. The Incredibly Forbidden thing she did to save her lover Terrible's life a book or two ago is having side effects that trouble them both for different reasons. And of course, she's still a junkie. But she's starting to realize that maybe she does have it in her to quit pushing Terrible away.This book feels like it might be an end to the Downside series. I hope not, of course, but if it is, I think it ends in a hopeful place. Chess is forced to see the effects of her actions, and the ramifications of them for lives other than hers. There's no hint that she's ready to think about giving up drugs, but she's in a place to take a tentative step forward which feels like it might lead to more. I'm totally satisfied with the emotional arcs through the series, however draining they are and however close I feel to them.

Moonshine

Moonshine - Alaya Dawn Johnson I picked up this book ages ago on a blog's recommendation and only just got to reading it. I enjoy urban fantasy these days, but sometimes it all starts to run together. This book had some unusual elements for the genre that I found intriguing: the setting in the Prohibition era isn't one that's much explored, and in addition to the usual vampires etc., this book introduces a djinn as one of its paranormals. It feels like the setup to a series (one reason for the 3 stars is because there are a number of hints of plot threads, like Zephyr's roommate's onset of Second Sight, that don't really seem to go anywhere), but I believe #2 has only recently been published, and I'm wavering a little on whether to pick it up.The worldbuilding here is a lot of fun, but I had a few moments where I wanted to shake the heroine... a lot. About 3/4 of the way through the book, she's handed a piece of information on a silver platter that ties together several of the mysteries in the book. She fails to notice, or to give it any thought besides "Hmm, that's odd." I actually found myself telling her what she ought to do. Out loud. Which was a little awkward, and she never did listen to me. I'm also not sure what was the deal with Zephyr's nascent career as a jazz singer. It didn't have any bearing on the plot, and only served to make her look a bit of a Mary Sue.The way the djinn was handled was interesting. I did like it that the end of his arc was done in a way that made it clear that he really isn't human. I didn't enjoy Zephyr's family all that much, but I really did like the many different types of relationships between women that made up a lot of the book- Zephyr's partnership with Lily, her friendship with Aileen, even her adversarial relationship with her landlady.

Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, Book 2)

Fool Moon - Jim Butcher It truly pains me to write this, but I fear I liked the second volume of the Dresden Files less than the first, and I didn't like the first very much. I really wanted to give this series a chance to see what all the fuss is about, but based on the first two, I'm inclined to stop here or else skip ahead a few (which a friend insists I cannot do).Dresden may consider his attitude toward women chivalrous, but I found it chauvinistic. His focus on protecting women is misguided, and I get the feeling he's never really going to realize that no matter how many of them he ends up putting in harm's way in the name of protecting them, or no matter how many of them repeatedly demonstrate they're capable on their own. If I hadn't been reading on an e-reader, I think I might have thrown the book at the wall the 39th time Dresden calls Murphy cute. (And what is the fixation on her cute earlobes?) The women in this book could probably be strong, interesting characters if they were fleshed out, but Dresden's viewpoint makes that difficult. By the end of the book, I was in full agreement with Murphy when she called him a pompous, arrogant, old-fashioned chauvinist.I mentioned in my review of book 1 that I thought Butcher was good with his action scenes, keeping up the pace without letting the scene bog down in prose. I still think that, but with reservations. The entire second half of Fool Moon is essentially one protracted action sequence that would make a great movie probably somewhere containing Tommy Lee Jones, but I grew weary of reading the almost unrelieved fight scenes.I think it's time for me to step back from the Dresden Files, as I'm currently finding the hero infuriating and not in a lovable way. If I can figure out where people say it "gets good" (opinions seem to vary), I may skip ahead and try one more, but I'm feeling leery.

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1)

Storm Front - Jim Butcher Obviously I am pretty late to the party with the Dresden Files. I know an awful lot of people who will cut you (with words, if nothing else) if you admit to not liking the series. Like, on a par with Joss Whedon fans. I just keep my mouth shut around them. But I figured I should at least give the series a chance. My assessment of the first book is "Eh." A snarky detective who's involved with the paranormal isn't a new concept- everybody from Kolchak to Gabriel Knight has done that, and Gabriel Knight did it on the whole with better characterization. I do enjoy a paranormal mystery, though, and that aspect of the book I liked. Some pieces of Butcher's magic are interesting; I'm interested in the focus on talismans and magical objects, and hoping it isn't just a writerly crutch to get Dresden worried when he doesn't have one.The writing is all right. Dresden's voice doesn't really grip me, and people shudder and shiver an awful lot in this book. I will say that Butcher is really good with page-turning action scenes. Based only on this book, I can't say I get the following. But I will give the second book a read and see if the writing style grows on me.

Ashfall

Ashfall - Mike Mullin As the cover blurb says, the scariest apocalypse is one that could really happen. This debut novel follows Alex, a teenager trying to reach his parents after the eruption of the supervolcano hidden under Wyoming devastates North America, destroying the infrastructure that tenuously holds modern civilization in one fell swoop. The people Alex meets rise or fall to the challenge, organizing or succumbing to anarchy each in their own ways.While this book hasn't given me actual nightmares, it was a profoundly disquieting read. This particular type of apocalypse hits very close to home. What would I do if I lost all my civilized comforts and networks with no warning? How do you decide what morality to hold onto in a world where not everyone maintains the same ideals? The world Alex and his traveling companion Darla navigate on their quest presents them with a lot of difficult questions, and there are no easy answers.Mike Mullin has done his research. Everything he writes about, from geological disaster to martial arts, is carefully written to be as realistic as possible, but he manages to avoid the "my research, let me show you it" trap that many new authors fall into. (He spoke to my book club- the guy went out and earned a black belt in taekwondo so he could write his fight scenes as realistically as possible. This is dedication.)

Butterfly Swords (Harlequin Historical)

Butterfly Swords (Harlequin Historical) - Jeannie Lin It took me longer than I expected to finish this book. I really wanted to be able to give it a great review and support romances with Asian characters and settings, but the writing style of this one didn't really pull me in. In particular, the heroine immediately lusts after the hero (and vice versa) because... she just does. I would have preferred the physical attraction to be developed a little more.Ai Li (the heroine) does spend most of the book doing what the hero tells her to do. I didn't have an enormous problem with that- Ai Li is a princess, despite her martial arts prowess, and she isn't remotely wise in the ways of the world. What I did find troublesome was that in calling her "Ailey" throughout the narrative, using the barbarian hero's nickname for her, the author seems to put the male foreigner's stamp on Ai Li even though the book is written largely from her perspective (third person limited omniscient), and the reader has to view her through that prism even when reading about her cultural upbringing.I'd try another book by this author, but this one didn't entirely work for me.

Traveling Home: Sacred Harp Singing and American Pluralism (Music in American Life)

Traveling Home: Sacred Harp Singing and American Pluralism - Kiri Miller At once an academic and a personal read. Probably not a great deal of interest if you don't have experience or intense interest in Sacred Harp singing. I stayed up way too late reading this, though, because it gave me a great deal of food for thought about my own experiences and place within the Sacred Harp "diaspora."

Unholy Magic (Downside Ghosts, Book 2)

Unholy Magic - Stacia Kane Book 1 in the Downside series grabbed me; book 2 broke my heart (right alongside that of a major character). Book 1 established the world, book 2 dug deep into the characters, for better and for worse- digging into a viewpoint character like Chess can be a rough ride, and by the end of Unholy Magic I was exhausted. Exhausted, and waiting like a hawk for my next paycheck to hit the bank so I can get book 3 and find out how the situation Chess's self-destructive actions have, inevitably, gotten her into resolves.Chess is a difficult heroine. She's not interested in getting off drugs- they do good things for her, she can usually afford them, and she has good reasons for wanting to take the edge off her mind. Some reviewers had a hard time with this aspect of her character, but it was one of the reasons I was interested in this series to begin with. She knows just as well as the reader just how foolish some of her actions are, and how much they're driven by her addiction. But I'm pulling for her anyway- not necessarily to kick drugs, but to find peace however she can.I read stupidly fast, but I read this in one sitting because I couldn't do it any other way. And I actually gasped out loud once or twice. And kept my cat informed of the plot twists because there wasn't anybody else around to listen. Somebody had to be told, dammit.

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts, Book 1)

Unholy Ghosts - Stacia Kane I've been off urban fantasy for some time, and this was the book I chose to come back to it. I'd read some intriguing things about this series, but I wasn't prepared for just how much this book was going to grab me. The worldbuilding here is intense, and handed out in just the right bits and pieces; immersive from the start and opening up further and deeper as the book continues. This multilayered society comes through in speech patterns and clothes as much as in geography and money.But what really grabbed me here is the main character. Chess is an unusual viewpoint character- she's deeply flawed in a very real way, drug addicted and emotionally scarred. Her interactions with the people around her, especially the men who would like to be the man in her life, are as clear and understandable as they are heartbreaking. I haven't been this emotionally invested in a character's emotional arc in a long time, and I bought book 2 pretty much the second I finished book 1.