Novel Review: Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

Proven Guilty (The Dresden Files, #8)Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s one thing to enjoy and recommend a series repeatedly, and another thing entirely to watch it metamorph in the best possible way into something bigger and better than it’s yet been. Suddenly, many years and installments into the series, previous threads of plot and subplot come together into a rich tapestry. This is not to say that the tapestry has been revealed–it hasn’t. Merely its existence.

Chicago’s wizard detective, Harry Dresden, has been elevated into the highest regional position for the wizarding counsel. He’s also been handed a rough command: root out the recent dark magic that’s reared in Chicagoland. His case gets complicated quickly when trusted friends are caught in the path of the summoned fear-demons.

This novel establishes new definitions for the concept of “family” for Harry. Parents and children, mentors and students. Everything is personal, and not because he’s threatened and in danger, but because those he loves are. Harry realizes the existence of the dark tapestry threatening to smother his beloved city and those he cares about within it.

This series is highly recommended. I’ve previously read:
     Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)–4 stars
     Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)–4 stars
     Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)–4 stars
     Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)–4 stars
     Death Masks (The Dresden Files, #5)–4 stars
     Blood Rites (The Dresden Files, #6)–4 stars
     Dead Beat (The Dresden Files, #7)–4 stars    
     “Last Call” (The Dresden Files, #10.6)–5 stars
     “Love Hurts” (The Dresden Files, #11.5)–5 stars
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

Paper Girls, Vol. 1 (Paper Girls, #1)Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the writer of the brilliant Saga graphic series comes a new series that upon first introduction seems the lovechild of a feminist Stand By Me and Lovecraft. Four 12-y.o. girls newly break into the “Boys Only” club of newspaper delivery. One has also become the first local female altar “boy.” Tough as these preteens may be, they’re still suburban Cleveland 12 y.o. females armed only with their newspapers and bicycles. For safety’s sake, they pair up to avoid harassment and worse to get through Halloween pre-dawn as roving teen boys are still out pranking.

Set in 1988, the nostalgia factor is high for me from music and movie references to the levels of technology and video games. [My brother turned 13 within a week of this story setting.] It’s also accompanied by 1980s homophobia and AIDS-phobia, but not without getting called out by a couple more enlightened characters. This is no mere nostalgia ride, it’s divergent history and urban fantasy with most people seemingly disappeared or raptured away while the girls are on their routes. Also, massive pterodactyl-like beasts fill the air with riders no less, and alien-speaking mutant or mutilated teen boys lurk in the shadows. It’s almost Lovecraftian in its WTF-is-going-on approach, but then information starts to roll. Multi-dimensional time and space jumping pawns in a future[?] battle between teens and old-timers–this is metaphor in the extreme.

Artist Cliff Chiang makes good use of his material. The story sits in the “High Potential” box for this volume with the expectation that more answers and greater world-building will play out soon in subsequent volumes.

I’ve previously read Vaughan’s:
     Saga, Volume 1–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 2–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 3–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 4–4 stars
     Saga, Volume 5–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 6–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 7–4 stars

 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Book of the Dead ed. by John Skipp and Craig Spector

Book of the DeadBook of the Dead by John Skipp
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This zombie-themed anthology came out in the 1980s and shows it. At the very least, it makes obvious the more complex view of zombie lit as a genre. These tales stem from an era when zombies had not broken out of B horror films. Many cliches plague the narratives. And often times the zombies don’t move and act in a consistent way which takes seriously the defining situational characteristics they’ve been assigned. That’s a problem. Zombies, by cultural definition, are humans deprived of free will and acting the animal or the manipulations of another [such as a necromancer or obeah/voodoo priest].

There are of course exceptions in a zombie sub-genre where the zombie retains thoughts and memories and must deal with their “condition” as if it were akin to chronic disease. All zombie detectives fall into this category.

Two of the sixteen short stories and novellas rose above the rest for me, meriting 4 stars:
–Glen Vasey’s Choices follows a young man’s journal of the first months of a zombie apocalypse under the looming cloud of knowing that the journal is “found evidence” not accompanied by the writer. His fate resides within the pages. The journal mostly explores the variety of reactions found in the other survivors he meets along his journey.
–Nicholas Royle’s “Saxophone” depicts self-aware zombies living the chronically hampered and deprived life of those behind the iron curtain. The Berlin Wall separates the free from the zombie in this well developed tale of alternate history.

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the anthology’s component tales. Also included are:
Boyett, Steven R.–Like Pavlov’s Dogs–3 stars
King, Stephen–“Home Delivery”–3 stars
McCammon, Robert R.–“Eat Me”–3 stars
McConnell, Chan–“Blossom”–3 stars
Nutman, Philip–“Wet Work”–3 stars
Winter, Douglas E.–“Less Than Zombie”–3 stars
Campbell, Ramsey–“It Helps If You Sing”–2 stars
Daniels, Les–“The Good Parts”–2 stars
Lansdale, Joe R.–“On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks”–2 stars
Tem, Steve Rasnic–“Bodies and Heads”–2 stars
Bryant, Edward–“A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned”–1 star
Hodge, Brian–“Dead Giveaway”–1 star
Layman, Richard–“Mess Hall”–1 star
Schow, David J.–“Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy”–1 star
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Like Pavlov’s Dogs by Steven R. Boyett

3 of 5 stars.

This novella chronicles two different reactions to a zombie apocalypse and how those reactions abrade each other. The first reaction is one of cool detachment. Out in the Arizona desert, Ecosphere stands as an experiment on the road to Martian exploration and colonization. Eight specialists live in an enclosed system containing multiple ecosystems and hundreds of species both wild and domestic. The social and biological experiment was set to end a long time ago, but with the pandemic, the specialists stayed put ignoring the outer world. Small tensions exist within the 8-person team . . .

Many dozens of miles away, the cities of Arizona are scraped thin by the scavenging survivors. They’ve learned to live with the lumbering dead going so far as to clothe them in ironic t-shirts. [Eat Me, I’m With Stupid, etc] The survivors are grouped like street gangs, each member answering to one or two nicknames. Fights are common; murder not uncommon. One guy gets the idea to check on that place in the desert where they were doing that NASA Ecosphere experiment years before . . .

The characters within the Ecosphere are fully developed, while the city-dwellers are left nearly indistinguishable. The nicknames fail to add description or color to the characters there. Included, also, is a rare perspective from that of a “smart” zombie. It stands without payout, however, as the zombie POV doesn’t arise at the critical moments in the tale.

This novella appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

Dead Beat (The Dresden Files, #7)Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Dresden Files may be one of many urban fantasy detective series in the literary market, but it leads and inspires as such. The world of Harry Dresden, the modern day wizarding detective based in Chicago, continues to expand its worldview and internal history. But most impressively, a reader will sense a turning point in this installment, an escalation, in which the disparate elements of Dresden’s world are starting to lock into place in relation to each other. There has been offshoots into the worlds or politics of vampires, fae, werewolves, wizarding counsels and police forces, and circles of black magic users in previous novels in the series. Additionally, Harry’s own parentage and quizzical family history including a literal fairy godmother and a incubus half-brother has been held in hint-and-tease mode. Here, each offshoot and sub-story line formulates as a puzzle piece in a very large and curious puzzle. While the overall image may remain elusive, a sense of place and relation between the pieces becomes apparent.

Harry’s partner in crime[fighting], Karrin Murphy of the Chicago PD is on vacation while necromancers descend on Chicago in the days before Halloween. Werewolves, vampires and wizards all react to this development while the necromancers stir up the ghosts and create zombie minions. Harry’s increasing strength and taint by a demonic fallen angel guide him as he leads the revolt against the coalescing forces of darkness. His ongoing unease with the wizarding police known as the wardens takes an interesting turn when Harry is essentially drafted into service.

This series is highly recommended. I’ve previously read:
     Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)–4 stars
     Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)–4 stars
     Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)–4 stars
     Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)–4 stars
     Death Masks (The Dresden Files, #5)–4 stars
     Blood Rites (The Dresden Files, #6)–4 stars
     “Last Call” (The Dresden Files, #10.6)–5 stars
     “Love Hurts” (The Dresden Files, #11.5)–5 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Choices by Glen Vasey

4 of 5 stars.

The modern incarnation of the “found evidence” urban fantasy has someone reviewing video footage of often horrible or unexplained events. Many movie examples demonstrate this such as The Blair Witch Project [a ghost haunting], Paranormal Activity [a demon haunting], and Cloverfield [alien invasion]. The story can be made all the more horrible in knowing that the videographer doesn’t necessarily survive their own video.

Pre-dating the found video is the found journal, or diary. This form has the potential to be even more intimate as the writer can bare their soul into the journal. But it’s also more tenuous–the writer must record everything. And accurately. The potential for personal bias runs very high, whether it be through prejudice, emotion, or misinformation.

This novella follows one young man, Dawson, through his journal after it has reached the hands of researchers. The journal chronicles the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse and Dawson’s next couple of weeks on the run for survival. Mostly, he is alone and fighting madness that seeps into his journal skewing the perspective. Dawson’s ultimate fate and the path of the journal are left to the very end. What the journal portrays the clearest is the human decision to survive come-what-may. It’s a desperate choice in dire circumstances, and not without it’s own madness.

This novella appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Short Story Collection Review: Remember by Ray Gardener

RememberRemember by Ray Gardener
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Memories are notoriously fickle things. People both remember things that never happened and yet incorporate it into the fiction of their lives, and also forget things without the recourse to reverse the process. Some want to remember; others would do anything to forget . . .

This collection of eight tales examines a multiple of related themes as memories prove their elusiveness. The first six of the eight tales take place in the same world with the same cast of characters. A bit of clever tweaking could have nicely pulled them into a single hefty novella, much the way Gloria Naylor’s brilliant Bailey’s Cafe tells a series of interrelated character tales exploring identity and abuse. Here, the business of remembering and forgetting is monetized with people paying others or for services that will remove memories or plant false memories. People should be careful what they ask for, lest they actually get it. Some want to erase painful memories, others are more playful with their brain health and tweak things for fun or out of boredom.

The very brief seventh tale show a war of the roses between a vampiric love triangle. Vampires have the ability to plant false memories as they seduce. [Think succubus vampires.]

The eighth tale is a novella in which the narrator notices the world changing about her in ways that others do not. People and places seem to be suddenly gone. The psychological play here is nice and spins this tale into a thriller.

In a couple scenes in unrelated tales, I found myself pulled from the story by characters not acting appropriately or competently for their occupation or place in life. Thankfully and redeemingly, on both occasions, the scenes or characters turned out not to be real. They were false memories or experiences, akin to dream logic. Many a thing seems logical in dreams that doesn’t hold up with 15 seconds of lucidity. And yet these out-of-characters sections weren’t over-written which was also nice in that it kept the mystery of what was reliably true hidden.

I received my copy of this collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I’ve previously read this author’s The White Room and Other Stories
 
 
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