Wednesday, September 30, 2015

REVIEW: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7507944-akata-witch
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Publication Year: 2011
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Series: Akata Witch #1
Awards: None
Format: Hardback (from Library)
Narrator: NA

Why?:  Ever since reading a review of one of her newer adult novels Lagoon, I’ve wanted to give her books a read.  My library doesn’t have Lagoon (sadly) so I picked up Akata Witch (happily).  Yay me!

This book starts with a young girl seeing the end of the world in a candle flame.  She is so surprised and sucked in that she burns most of her hair off before she notices it. She is Sunny, a 12 year old Nigerian-American girl who was born and spent the first nine years of her life in America before her family moved back to Nigeria. She has two obnoxious brothers and conservative educated parents and she’s also an Albino.  While this hasn’t made life easy for Sunny, it has made her sensible and tough.  Shortly after her vision of the end of the world, she makes a couple of new friends, Orlu and Chichi.  Little does she know that they are about to open up a whole new world to her, because Sunny? Is a witch.  Unlike Orlu and Chichi whose parents are also magical and who have brought them up in the culture, Sunny has no idea and even though magic is hereditary neither of her strait-laced parents even recognizes its existence. Soon after Sunny’s initiation and the beginning of training, a fourth is added to the group of friends – Sasha a slightly older Nigerian-American who was getting in trouble back in the states resulting in his parents sending him away.  The four form a group with magical significance, which means they are destined to do great things together.

I loved this book. If the above description strikes a familiar note and perhaps conjures up a vision of a boy wizard with untidy black hair and a scar, you will have recognized that Akata Witch takes advantage of some well worn tropes. While it is as delightful as Harry Potter, it most certainly goes its own way, based in African culture and myth.  Basically if you enjoyed the Harry Potter books you will undoubtedly enjoy Akata Witch but you will also be continually surprised.

Sunny is a brilliant protagonist whose reactions to all the craziness around her are just as they should be.  All four children feel very real but my major affinity was with Orlu and Sunny.  They are the uptight rule followers – they’re brave and will break rules when necessary but they aren’t reckless or thoughtless.  Being a total goody-goody myself I really appreciated them:).  ChiChi and Sasha are the reckless free spirits and though I should have been annoyed by them I never was as they are also caring, kind and just a teeny bit eccentric.

The book uses the trope of a small magic community completely hidden within a much larger non-magical world and population and as Sunny is introduced into this secret world so is the reader.  The magic and the community around it is effortlessly imaginative without ever being over the top.  For the most part it feels very down to earth, gritty and real. It’s wondrous and familiar all at once.  And not without dangers.  I was curious at first why a book with a twelve year old protagonist was classified YA rather than middle-grade but it doesn’t take much reading into the book to realize why.  The danger they face is dark and the magic they do is sometimes not pretty.

FINAL VERDICT: Very enjoyable YA read with a distinctive atmosphere about young witches and wizards taking on a great evil.  It has characters that are easy to believe in and care about and a magic system and magical community that is imaginative and fun to be immersed in. Fans of Harry Potter should love this one! 4 out of 5 stars.    

Don't just take my word for it - Other Reviews: GeekDad | Jim C. Hines | Odinani

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

REVIEW | Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25614228-unfinished-business
Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter
Publication Year: 2015 (September 29th)
Genre: Non-fiction, Work Culture
Series: NA
Awards: None
Format: Advanced Reader Copy from Penguin Random House.  Receiving the book for free does not impact my review.
Narrator: NA

WHY?: Work-Life balance and modern feminism are both topics that interest me.

At first glance, I am an unlikely reader of this book.  I am unmarried and have no children.   However, even with fewer obligations in my personal life, I still struggle with the desire to live a fulfilling, well-rounded life that does not wholly revolve around my job.  If you are a working person with a family at home, Unfinished Business will be a very interesting and perhaps even important read for you but even if you do not have care obligations but are flummoxed by America's very intense work culture you will find the ideas presented in this book worthwhile.
"I began to wonder why success as a woman, or indeed as a man, meant privileging career achievement above all else."
Anne-Marie Slaughter is an ambitious and successful career woman.  Trained as a lawyer and having an expertise in foreign policy, she has taught at Ivy League universities and served as Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University before leaving to become the first woman Director of Policy Planning under Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.  Her position on Clinton's staff required her to move away from her husband and two sons only commuting back on weekends.  After serving for two years, Slaughter decided that she needed to be back in Princeton for her family and while she got a very nice send off, the overall sentiment was that she had somehow failed by "giving up" this prestigious position for reasons of family.  In response, she wrote an article for The Atlantic entitled "Why Women Still Can't Have it All" which created an enormous response.  The questions and challenges she received in response to this article is what prompted this book, which is a more detailed exploration of the current state of feminism and the issues with America's work culture.
"Advice on how to achieve a sane work-life balance has become a cottage industry. Numerous books on the subject have been published...But they are all aimed at workers, overwhelmingly women, who are presumed to have the responsibility of stretching the twenty-four hours in a day to cover and impossible and never-ending list of things to get done.  Why not tackle this issue from another angle? Perhaps the problem is not with women but with work."
Slaughter approaches the issue in a very organized fashion.  She clearly states and explores the problem, with statistics, research and anecdote, and then methodically lays out the causes and proposes possible solutions.  Her writing style is engaging and easy to get into and never gets too repetitive or if she does repeat herself it is in a sufficiently different way that it serves to elucidate rather than annoy.  She makes very clear that she is writing from her own experience, that of a professional, upper middle class woman, and that is where the bulk of the narrative is spent but she does make a point of recognizing and including others in her solutions.  Many of the responses she received in response to her original article forced her to examine the larger problems that exist.
"In the process of writing this book, responding to reflections, questions, and critiques from many different people from many different backgrounds, I have realized time and again just how much my own experiences inevitably shape my assumptions about how others think and feel.  As I have tried to put myself in others' shoes, I have confronted again and again the obvious but too often overlooked of just how much money matters."
And those larger problems?  One of her biggest points is that they are not just women's problems.  The real issue she defines is a conflict between career and care-giving where care-giving is extremely undervalued.  This goes for women and men and is exemplified by the low pay, training and status of professional care-givers. She points out that while women have made some strides towards equality in the workplace, men still face huge biases and stigma for wanting to play an equal or full time part in care-giving of their children and household.  And that stigma is not just from workplace managers; but from spouses.  She points out that many women assume that they know what's best in running the household and caring for the children and don't trust their husbands to care for the children "the right way".  This whole topic was enough for me to want hand this book out to every married-with-children woman I work with, because every single one of them has this bias at home. I'm not criticizing - I would be the same way - but just as men have to be willing to relinquish control of how work is done, women must relinquish some control in the home for true equality to be a reality.  

"...our assumption that wanting "work-life balance"  - or even just wanting a life outside of work - signals a lack of commitment to that work.  That assumption reflects a mindset that promotes men with full-time wives and no life."
"That is the lens that same-sex couples offer the rest of us.  It is no longer possible to assume, even at the subconscious level, that one member of the couple will be better at raising children and running a household and the other will excel at earning income and climbing a career ladder."
"To counter these assumptions and carefully prescribed roles, men need a movement of their own. Most of the pervasive gender inequalities in our society - for both men and women - cannot be fixed unless men have the same range of choices with respect to mixing care-giving and breadwinning that women do."
Slaughter ends the book by suggesting a number of possible solutions from the personal - having frank discussions with your partner early on about the willingness to sacrifice career for care-giving during points of their career - to the professional - convincing businesses to consider the unique talents of a late forty-something coming back into a profession after dialing down to raise a family.  The point is that there must be a fundamental shift in American work culture from the bottom to the top where care-giving is valued and where the complete subsuming of life to work is not necessary.  The system must change.
"We have re-defined feminism as women's right to be owned by the system, to be owned as much as men have been owned."
"Valuing care also offers a compass to a new set of workplace and national policies.  Challenging employers, politicians, and ordinary citizens to explain why, exactly, it is more important and valuable to compete with one another than to care for one another."
This book works so well because Slaughter is clearly not immune to current society's messaging about success and the proper way to do business - she is fighting her own biases.  She confronts them and is constantly checking herself and trying to expand the ideas out and make them relevant for all without letting the book get too overwhelming.  This is not a book that is all about how women have been wronged, it is about how we are all hurting under the weight of a work culture that is still stuck in the past and a society that values work too much at the expense of the personal.  If you have any interest in any of this, I think you will find it an incredibly satisfying, validating or at the very least interesting read.

FINAL VERDICT:  This is a wonderfully succinct and thoughtful book for anybody interested in feminism, work-life balance or America's work culture.  Five out of Five Stars.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saturdays in the Garden | There's No Place Like Home


OUTSIDE
Happy Fall Equinox!  It was on the 23rd and today is putting on an exemplary show of what an early fall day should be like.  I do love autumn only a smidge less than spring and I wish I had done something special to mark the day and welcome the season.  A feeble pretense of paganism perhaps but I do feel like there is something peaceful about being in tune with a calendar based on nature's cycles.  Did you do anything to celebrate the coming of Autumn?
September 26, 2015

So. Dung Beetles. I ran into a colony of them out in Western Iowa on a prairie grazed by bison and it was one of the cooler things I found in the last two weeks.  The beetles feed mostly on the feces of herbivores and form it into balls which they then roll to a hidden place where they can munch in peace or can bury it and lay their eggs in it.  They have become somewhat scarce in some parts of the U.S. because of all the chemicals and drugs we inject in our cattle etc... which ends up making their poo toxic to the beetles.  The Nature Conservancy which runs the preserve I was working on says that they purposefully chose  milder inoculations for the bison etc... so it's not as hard on the beetles.  Looks like it is working:)! The beetles are so fascinating to watch.  I ran into one beetle working hard to move a dung ball down the trail and then ran into the rest of the colony on a big tasty pile of feces a few feet further on. 

Another marvel of nature that I find both fascinating and deeply annoying are the vast arrays of hitch-hiker seeds that plants produce.  What an ingenious adaptation to ensure seed dispersal - produce a seed designed to catch in any passing mammal's fur.  Brilliant!  The annoying part?  I think golden retrievers may be these hitch-hiker seed producing plant's most treasured dream.  My dogs have spent the last 5 weeks coated in all manner of these seeds - literally thousands of them per dog.  I should have taken a picture of them with their faces covered in seeds.  I am glad to be home again where there are none of these plants....until next year.  And all the plants yell...Mission Accomplished!

A few more pics from the last two weeks:
A wolf tree.  Wolf trees are old trees (like this venerable oak) that stand alone in a pasture/prairie and without competition from other trees, let their branches really spread out. They are particularly attractive to wildlife and people alike. Doesn't it make you just want to sit under the branches in the shade and read a good book?
Asters are the bomb
LIFE

The most salient point of my life right now is a deep happiness at being home.  Dorothy weren't lyin', y'all!  I am feeling a serious longing to clean and then snuggle into my nest until spring but that would make me an agoraphobe so I will resist.


WATCHING, READING, and BLOGGING....and LISTENING

Watching
I mainlined the first 5 episodes of Longmire, season 4 last night and it's been good but I'm not sure if my expectations were too high because it's been a little disappointing in a few respects.  I will likely do a review post someday once I've had some time to digest the whole season.

Listening
I am a huge fan of podcasts and have several I listen to religiously but I am also always on the lookout for new and exciting programs because my attention span is perhaps not what it should be. One of my favorite shows that I have recently discovered is We Have Concerns.  The two hosts, Jeff Cannata and Anthony Carboni crashed another podcast I listen to, Sword and Laser (about Fantasy and Sci-fi Literature), and it made me want to check their show out. It's basically these two talking about an unusual, somewhat geekily interesting topic for 20 minutes at a time.  I really like the mixture of humor and thoughtful discussion.  It can get a little bro-mancey/dudely at times but besides an occasional bout of eye rolling, it doesn't bother me too much though your mileage may vary.   I started at the beginning and my favorite episode so far has been number 9, Jolt of Personality, that examines brain function and how you can change it with a jolt of electricity and what implications that could have.

Reading 
I'm not sure really how I feel about book festivals - I am both attracted to and repelled by them -but I just learned about one upcoming in Iowa City, IA that looks pretty darn cool.  I will not be able to make it to the festival and I am a little sad about that.  They are having several authors speak/read that I would be interested in, particularly John Scalzi and Rebecca Makkai and I was really impressed with how diverse the lineup is.  University of Iowa is well known for it's Writer's Workshop and they apparently also have an International Writers Workshop that brings writers from all over the world to the University.  It is also diverse as far as genre.  I already mentioned Scalzi who is primarily Science Fiction but they are also presenting an award to famous mystery writer Sara Paretsky, there's a couple of non-fiction social justice speakers and some literary fiction represented.  Anyway, I am just putting it out there for Upper Mid-westerners who might be interested: Iowa City Book Festival, October 1-4.

Finished Last Week:

  • Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter:  This is a non-fiction ARC addressing work-life balance and feminism.  
  • This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart:   I had only ever read Stewart's Arthurian novels.  This is romantic suspense and I have gobbled it up.  
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling:  Re-read:)
  • Grace Under Fire by Julie Hyzy:  A cozy mystery that takes place in a Biltmore like tourist destination.  I found it to be rather uninspired and had me thinking about what it is I am really looking for in a cozy. 

Currently Reading:

  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: So maybe some day I'll pick this up again?  Until then it will sit here on the currently read and look encouraging.
  • The Founding (The Morland Dynasty #1) by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles: This is the first book in a series that follows a single British family through numerous generations into modern times.  This first book takes place in the early 15th century.  This is such a fascinating idea and I have high hopes but I have to say the characters in this first book are shallow and are doing nothing for me.
  • Of Noble Birth by Brenda Novak:  Despite the presence of pirates it is not making me happy mostly because of deficient humor and boring main characters. 
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey: Space Opera!
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik: I think this book may be suffering under the influence of too much hype.  I like it thus far (about 1/4 in I'd guess) but I don't feel gushy about it and am definitely not craving it.

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:


Blimey, my last post was almost two weeks ago!  The last two weeks of my field work sapped a lot of my energy and I didn't have a lot of opportunity for internetting.  So, Hello there Blog!  I will henceforth try to give you a bit more attention!

On the BLOG NEXT WEEK:

 

Obviously I'd like to get back on a more regular posting schedule but I have also been having a big think about my approach to the blog which is pretty haphazard and slapdash.  I'd like to be a little more thoughtful about my posts but that may take some time to get into.  Anyway, the only thing I know I will post on this week is Unfinished Business....
TUESDAY: Review of Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter.  I highly recommend this non-fiction book to anyone interested in feminism, work-life balance and/or current work culture in the U.S.




Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sundays in the Garden | The Nomadic Life Starts to Lose Its Shine

OUTSIDE and LIFE (because they are one and the same these days)

I ain't gonna lie.  It has been a very frustrating week in the field though I'll let you decide if that really would even register on the scale of bad.   I had to abort two surveys in the middle and take a 20 minute break in the middle of another because of weather and some bison that were feeling capricious.  I am down to the final ten days to get my field work done and deadlines and pressures back at the office are starting to mount.  I got a nasty-gram from the deputy head of the agency about something I hadn't done in the allotted time frame (because it requires a good bit of internet access and the time frame was established the day before I went into the field for 6 weeks with no internet).  Hence why I am back in civilization to spend a day in the office tomorrow. Yippee!  My job is awesome and I'm lucky to have it and have the opportunity to run around in the prairie as part of it so while I may whine a little I try not to really complain but the nomadic life?  I am done with thee!
I love blue flowers.
They're pretty.
I'm not sure if you can tell but it is raining where I am standing, taking the picture.  A mile to either side of where I was, it was blue skies with hardly a cloud. I paused my survey and just stood there for 15 minutes and got rained on while looking resentfully at the nearby blue sky. 

Is it just me or can anyone else imagine a hand rising from the lake holding an enchanted sword...
These are the bison.  They are standing right smack dab in the middle of my survey parcel looking at me nervously. For good measure, the herd was split and the other half was lounging right in the way of the survey parcel's exit.  That, along with a brisker wind than I was expecting, scuppered my survey ambitions for today:(.  
WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching

Nada.  The thing I am most looking forward to when I am done with my field work is binge watching season 4 of Longmire on Netflix!

Reading 

Finished Last Week:

  • Abarat by Clive Barker:  It reminded me a lot of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland... which in turn reminded me of Alice in Wonderland.  Fun, strange book though it lacked something...forward momentum perhaps...which kept me from loving it.
  • A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan (Brothers Sinister 1.5):  A novella in this romance series that tells the story of Minnie's best friend Lucy Charingford. It was okay.
  • Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor:  I loved this middle-grade/ YA novel that takes place in Nigeria and am super excited that it is the first in a series!  Not that I need to get sucked into any more series...
  • The Interrupted Tale (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #4) by Maryrose Wood: This series, ya'll!  I seriously can't imagine anything more charming and delightful than it!  It's middle grade fiction about three children raised by wolves and their plucky governess.  The audio read by Katherine Kellgren is the best thing ever.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black:  I liked this book a LOT more than I was expecting to - it was fantastic!  

Currently Reading:

  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: So maybe some day I'll pick this up again?  Until then it will sit here on the currently read and look encouraging.
  • The Founding (The Morland Dynasty #1) by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles: This is the first book in a series that follows a single British family through numerous generations into modern times.  This first book takes place in the early 15th century.  This is such a fascinating idea and I have high hopes but I have to say the characters in this first book are shallow and are doing nothing for me.
  • Of Noble Birth by Brenda Novak:  Despite the presence of pirates it is not making me happy mostly because of deficient humor and boring main characters.
  • Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter:  This is a non-fiction ARC addressing work-life balance and feminism.  
  • This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart:   I had only ever read Stewart's Arthurian novels.  This is romantic suspense and I have gobbled it up.  
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling:  Re-read:)


On the BLOG LAST WEEK:


SUNDAY: Seventh Longmire post featuring the last 5 episodes of Season 3!  Bring on Season 4!
TUESDAY: Review of Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
THURSDAY: Review of The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

On the BLOG NEXT WEEK:

This week is up in the air as I expect only to be in internet land for a short time but that could change. 

May you always have walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you, those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire.
- Irish Blessing

Thursday, September 10, 2015

REVIEW: The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan
Publication Year: 2012
Genre: Historical Romance, roughly Victorian Era
Series: Brothers Sinister #1
Awards: RONE Award, Historical Post-Medieval (2013)
Format: eBook bought
Narrator: NA

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
Publication Year: 2012
Genre: Historical Romance, roughly Victorian Era
Series: Brothers Sinister #0.5
Awards: RONE Award, Best Historical Novella (2013)
Format: eBook bought
Narrator: NA

WHY: I am very picky about my romance reads so I am always on eagle-eyed look out for new authors.  Milan has come up several times in several places as a talented writer of historical romance with feminist sensibilities.  Sign me up!

First of all, I am reviewing two stories here.  The Governess Affair is a novella that precedes the first Brothers Sinister book and it explains how two of the characters are connected and why they have the issues that they do.  It's a good place to start.  In it, Serena Barton is a governess who has recently lost her position because a noble guest at her employer's house, the Duke of Clermont raped her and got her with child.  She is now determined to shame him and get what she needs to care for her child.  She must first figure out how to outsmart the Duke's ruthless man of business, who, of course turns out to be a much better man than his employer.

Fast forward almost 30 years and the illegitimate and legitimate son of the evil Duke are fast friends and are brothers and more than name.  The Duchess War's time frame is more Victorian than Regency era England and struck me as a little past Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South but before Edith Wharton's Buccanneers.  What?  You don't define historical periods by fictional settings?  Anyway, this book focuses on Robert Blaisdell, the current Duke of Clermont as he struggles to right his father's wrongs and be a better person.  His mind is engaged by a sharp-tongued and rather plain looking wallflower who obviously harbors many secrets.  They have many obstacles to their inevitable union because of her scandalous past and very low social status.  They make it work but not without a lot of strife. 

I really admire and respect Courtney Milan but at least based on these two books, I'm not sure she is  destined to be on my list of favorites.  This book was really good and I appreciated so many unique elements about it.  The heroine is not terribly attractive, there’s a great female friendship portrayed (among others), the hero is a virgin (gasp!) and the sex is not immediately mind blowing.  The plot is a little far-fetched but complex and interesting.  At one point she does that thing I hate where it appears a big conflict will ensue because one of the partners stupidly and incomprehensibly withholds some information but then she subverts that annoying trope by diffusing the conflict and using it as an “important learning moment” for the character. 

As much as I admired he book however, I didn't love it.  Mostly this is 100% a personal preference thing.  Basically, my preferences in romance are incredibly and ridiculously shallow.  Sure, I want a unique, independent sassy female lead and for the characters to be developed enough that I care about them.  But that’s about as much depth as I want.  Reality?  Has no business being in my romance novel and if it isn’t making me laugh or smile affectionately at the witty banter in between swoons I want none of it.  Milan definitely includes some humor in the book, there are a couple of scenes, interactions between Robert and his friends, that made me laugh out loud. However the overall feel of the book is too weighty for my preferences.  I repeat, it’s ALL ON ME and I didn’t dislike the book, not by a long shot but I was not delighted or swept away by it.  That said, I am totally interested in reading the next two books in the Brothers Sinister series because I was VERY intrigued by the other three characters that will be focused on: Oliver, and particularly Sebastien and Violet.  Sebastien is an evolutionary biologist!! Eep!

FINAL VERDICT:  A little too weighty for my romance-reading taste but a well-written and unique book so if you’re not as shallow as I am (so…most people) you’ll likely love it! I will be continuing the series. 3 out of 5 Stars.



Tuesday, September 8, 2015

REVIEW: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
Publication Year: 2007
Genre: YA Fantasy
Series: Wildwood #1
Awards: NA
Format: Audiobook on CD from Library
Narrator: Kim Mai Guest

WHY: Appallingly and against my usually vigilant rules, I accidentally read book 2 of this series (Cybele's Secret) first.  I didn't love it but was intrigued by the mentions of events in book 1. Plus I generally like Juliet Marillier and fairy tale re-tellings.


From what I've read Wildwood Dancing is Juliet Marillier's first foray into young adult fiction.  The setting is a feudal Transylvania and the primary source for the story is the fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, though several changes are made and pieces from other stories and region appropriate folklore are also used.

Wildwood Dancing tells the story of five sisters who are allowed access to the fairy world and its revels during every full moon.  This is a secret part of their lives and brightens up their otherwise content but rather mundane lives.  Their story is told from the point of view of Jena, who is the second oldest sister (15 years old) and "the responsible one".  Their mother is dead and their father is very ill and must spend the winter in gentler climes than the mountains of Transylvania in order to have any chance of recovery.  The five sisters are on their own for the winter, with Jena and her older sister Tati left in charge.  Almost immediately problems start to arise mostly in the form of their overbearing and chauvinistic neighbor and cousin Cezar and a forbidden love that develops between Tati and one of the more enigmatic denizens of the fairy kingdom.

As I have experienced with Marillier before, she does a good job of interweaving magic into a very believable and detailed "real world".  The detail and life she breathes into what is otherwise a short folk tale is nothing short of wondrous.  The life of the sisters, their relationship with others and the community they are a part of all feel very down to earth and historically accurate.  The magic is entwined with the setting in a very natural way that is easy to imagine.  This is a real strength of the book and was probably what I enjoyed most.

While the world building is easy to admire and praise, my feelings about almost everything else in the book are more complicated.  I liked the book better after I had finished and digested it a bit but I have to admit to feeling frequently frustrated by it while listening.  Most of my frustration can probably be chalked up to me being a pretty unfairly curmudgeonly reader of YA so take it with a grain of salt:).  

While Jena is, for the most part, a wonderful main character; opinionated, ambitious, nurturing and perhaps a bit of a control freak.   She's admirable but flawed. Unfortunately, I found her (and her sisters) at times insanely frustrating. The main element of her character arc that I struggled with was how naively she acts despite her exposure to a much wider world than most.  This is really a pitfall of all fairy tale re-tellings.  We the readers are usually very familiar with the tropes and themes that frequently dominate fairy tales and as such can see circumstances coming from miles away, while by necessity the characters living in the story shouldn't be expected to know these things and be wiser for them. When the witch of the wood tells you to "trust your instincts", listen to her and don't assume she's fond of meaningless platitudes! Even if a character's ignorance makes sense it doesn't change the fact that their blundering makes them look stupid.  Again this is likely down to me being too critical a reader.  However, there are also scenarios where Jena refuses to consider the possibility of something because it seems "impossible", all while she is traveling through a magic portal in her bedroom to the land of the fairies.  Seems like that would open one's mind to all possibilities?  Maybe a little?  The fact that she is so dismissive of things that seem no more outlandish than her monthly experiences frustrated me to no end.  It came across as heavy handed storytelling, and maybe aimed at a younger audience than typical YA?  

All that grumbling aside, one of the main things that frustrated me while I was reading, but then became kind of awesome upon reflection, was the character of Tati and her love for Sorrow.  Tati remains an exasperating character but I realized that, purposefully or not, Marillier had set up an elegant contrast between Tati's romance and Jena's.  Tati's relationship with Sorrow is straight out of a fairy tale or medieval tales of romantic love.  They fall in love at first site and become instantly obsessed with each other even though they've only spent 3 nights in each others' company.  Tati becomes unable to do or think about anything other than Sorrow and ceases to be able to function in normal life.  She becomes selfish and completely self-absorbed.  When troubles arise, she stops eating until she starves herself to the point of death putting her family and her beloved in grave danger as well.  Jena, on the other hand, falls in love with her hero over many years of friendship. When troubles arise, she continues to function mostly at full capacity and takes care of all her responsibilities.  She is then brave and assertive and is the one to address and fix the problems between her and her fella.   It's a lovely contrast between the courtly love that has been idealized in the past and a more modern and healthier approach to relationships.  Kind of cool even if I did want to shake Tati every time she was on the page!

The story is also really engrossing and I found myself looking forward to being in the car and getting more of it.  I got really sucked in and it was the auditory version of a page turner.  The narrator, Kim Mai Guest did a lovely job.  She spoke with a slight accent/lilt to her voice that really worked for Jena.  She also did a seamless and mostly non-cartoonish job voicing all the male characters and the strange denizens of the wildwood. 

FINAL VERDICT: Recommended to anyone who likes richly imagined fairy tale re-tellings.  I found it to be a little uneven particularly in it's portrayal of characters but I'm not sure this would be an issue for the targeted reader.  3.5 out of 5 Stars.

A smattering of other Blogs that have reviewed this book: Book Smugglers, Tripping Over Books, The Silver Petticoat Review 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

LONGMIRE | Thoughts | S.3 | Eps. 6-10

A periodic post recording my ever so slightly obsessive watching of Longmire
The latter half of season 3 sees a lot of drama and signals some really major changes for almost all of the characters.  Cady finds her legs as a litigator, Henry is freed, Branch goes through hell and back only to discover his true enemy is closer to home, Vic's marriage dissolves but her persecution ends and Walt stays really busy and stressed but is finally brought to a place where he can say goodbye to his wife, Martha.    For me this is an incredibly strong set of episodes and I gave 4 out of 5 of them a grade of A or A-.  I'm obviously a fan of season 3!

Here's my thoughts on the episodes:

*************

Episode 3.6  | Reports of My Death

Short Synopsis: Walt re-enacts Weekend at Bernie's after finding a dead body in the town square who may be the long lost heir to a fortune. 

Short Review: A slightly lackluster episode but it does post some interesting quandaries about family loyalty, wealth and happiness.  Walt works mostly on his own this episode which is also kind of a bummer. GRADE: B

Random Thoughts:
  • It's no fun seeing Henry so down in the dumps and angry.  It' a big contributor to the overall grimness of this season.  
  • What WAS Walt like when he was 12??
  • So I guess Branch and Nighthorse are officially broken up?
  • What do you think about Welles?  Selfish asshole or brave idealist?  He's probably somewhere in the middle.  I do feel some sympathy for Penny and think Welles is somewhat cruel to his brother and sister.  After all they were all in the same boat and he escaped without a backward glance to them.
  • Well Branch is breaking up with everyone in this episode - I think he and Vic are also through.  
  • Vic: "Don't you compare yourself to Walt!" Branch: "I forgot. You two have a special relationship."  I think Branch probably idolizes Walt as much as Vic but he's been corrupted by being raised by Barlow.
  • Branch actually makes a pretty coherent argument defending his actions but there is also a big helping of self-justification.

Episode 3.7  | Population 25

Short Synopsis:  Vic and Sean stumble into a really bad part of rural Wyoming on their way to vacation and end up getting kidnapped by anti-government extremists.

Short Review:  There is a lot about this episode that doesn't make sense but that doesn't change the fact that it is Tense with a capital 't' and very exciting.  Grade: A

Random Thoughts:
  • Vic and Sean just really don't fit even when they are trying.  
  • Vic's lack of respect for her husband comes out in the patronizing way she talks to him and controls the situation after the accident.  Her plan is actually kind of ridiculous - Sean has the better idea but she has to take charge and act.  Interesting that Chance points out the lack of logic to Vic walking to his house when they had a phone. 
  • Walt to Gorski: "If you hurt her, you're a dead man."
  • So anti-government extremists eat fried bologna sandwiches.  Who knew?
  • Gorski: "The names out here.  We just don't get them out East."
  • I actually kind of like Gorski in this episode which highlights how inconsistent and ridiculous this whole Vic storyline has been.  I like it because it causes Vic and Walt to become more personally entangled BUT it is kind of a mess.  They seem to be rolling with the idea that Gorski's a little off therefore we can have him act inconsistently and explain it away as he's crazy.  He and Walt actually make a pretty great team.  
  • So why does Chance think that Sean isn't Vic's type right off the bat?  Sean is kind of preppy looking but it's not like Vic has her shitkickers on or anything. Sean is actually pretty ballsy in the initial scene with Chance.
  • It is obvious in the scene that Vic cares about Sean and is genuinely scared for him.  
  • Katee Sackhoff does an excellent job of losing her shit when she thinks that Walt may be in the body bag.  You can pretty much see her marriage dying right at that moment.  
  • So why do we even get the scene with Branch at the scene of the accident?  He does nothing of importance and we never see him again. 
  • Vic: "God I hope so, you crazed nutjob." 
  • So the final vibe from Gorski is 1) that he actually did care for Vic and 2) he realizes that Vic has "lost everything" (as he wished for in the last episode he was in) with the presumed death of Walt.
  • This episode was apparently longer than the others and it could actually have used at least 5 more minutes to explain what happened to Branch and really deal with the fact that Vic, with a serious concussion and a traumatizing experience, heads back into the fray to go after Walt.
  • Vic and Walt Update:  So I think a lot of folks feel like this is where Walt shows his feelings and there are perhaps a couple of subtle things that suggest that Vic is special to him but again I think most of Walt's actions, including the duel challenge, he would take for anybody in danger from Chance.  He almost blew the whole rescue earlier in the day to save an unknown state trooper - if Gorski hadn't been there, Walt, and Vic with him, would likely be dead.  So I don't really see that most of his actions really reveal any preference or personal feelings for Vic.  The two things that might be indicators? 1) His quote above to Gorski threatening to kill him if Vic was hurt - perhaps not meant to be taken literally but there is a lot of force in Walt's delivery. 2) He takes his eyes off of Chance for several seconds to lock eyes with and watch Vic as she is driven away.  This episode, does more to solidify even further that Vic is in love with Walt.  It's not just admiration and attraction.  She loves him.  And Sean knows it now too.

Episode 3.8  | Harvest

Short Synopsis: The murder of a local impoverished farmer doesn't add up but Walt and company have a hard time figuring out exactly what happened.

Short Review:  So this episode was always going to get a great review from me on the strength of the first scene alone!  Thankfully the rest of the episode earns that good rating.  Branch has seriously burned all bridges, and Vic is faced with the same decision she had in Philadelphia.  There is all kinds of angst in this episode.  The "mystery" is also quite poignant and highlights Walt's compassion. GRADE: A

Random Thoughts:
  • Why has Branch turn into such a Grade A asshole.  Vic was just kidnapped and terrorized and he's stuck in his little private world.  And then there's his response to Cady. 
  • Poor Ferg.  Does Walt send him out to do the grunt work because he doesn't think he's ready to be the primary deputy on a case like this?  Is he trying to get some alone time with Vic?  If so he doesn't use it...
  • Walt's response to Vic's announcement that Sean is demanding her resignation is very cold.  I think he's over-compensating because what he'd like to do is beg her to stay and he knows THAT wouldn't be professional.  
  • After she leaves in a huff and Ruby comes in he actually looks fairly peevish.  
  • I'm actually really surprised that Sean just goes along with Vic's seduction and then HOLY foot in mouth Vic.  Final nail in coffin for Sean and Vic, that.  
  • So what do you think of Nick Holman's attitude? 
  • Walt's affection for Bob and the speech he gives him is touching and shows just how compassionate and empathetic Walt is - he has that perfect combo of tough guy who can wall off his feelings with a strong sense of duty and compassion. 
  • Cady about Branch: "When I look him in the eyes all I see is this dark mean unstable man."
  • I love the final scene as Walt rolls in, sees Vic's clean desk and then his dread at her handing him a letter.
  • Poor Walt - One deputy going completely off the rails, best friend on trial for murder, having to duel crazed extremists in order to free his other deputy of whom he's overly fond of on top of all his cases.  Man needs some down time.
  • Vic and Walt Update: Finally, Walt shows his hand.  Up until the first scene of this episode Walt has done nothing definitive to reveal that he has anything but professional and perhaps friendly feelings toward Vic.  His reaching out to Vic is prompted by the traumatic situation they've just been through but also a couple of other things.  I think that what happened, and the fact that Vic is sitting with him and not her husband suggests to him that she has feelings for him.  Up to this point, while Walt is not lacking in confidence, I think he was blind to Vic's feelings because he couldn't imagine her having feelings for him because of their age difference.  The situation and his realization of her feelings push him past his natural repugnance of flouting marriage vows.  It's also quite obvious that Vic needs a hug.  And it's a really lovely hug. 

Episode 3.9  | Counting Coup

Short Synopsis: Branch has yet another sighting of David Ridges which sends the whole Sheriff's department into an uproar.  Meanwhile, Henry tries to burn the Red Pony down.

Short Review:  The last two episodes of this season are busy.  This episode does a good job of finally resolving the David Ridges story line and in dramatic fashion - the showdown with Walt is impressive.  Grade: A-

Random Thoughts:
  • Poor Ferg. He's trying so hard but he's clueless.  Has he not noticed Branch's wacko behavior.  And then Uh Oh.  It's not like Ferg is wrong to challenge Walt but... REALLY bad timing.  And Walt throws a little hissy fit. Hee!
  • Ruby: "All you did was treat Branch the way you would want to be treated. Problem is, he's not you." Truth.
  • Walt is NOT happy when Branch attacks Vic.  BUT he still gives Branch the benefit of the doubt which Vic does not.
  •  Looks like Walt is kind of dreading coming to work these days.  And again...Oh Ferg.  Walt didn't assault Branch, he just pulled him off of Vic and put him in the cell.  
  • Nice callback to the earlier snippet of information that David Ridges was a frequent blood donator at the Res clinic. 
  • It kind of looks like Walt rehearsed his whole speech to Vic.  His delivery is perfect..."The truth is Vic...I want you to stay."  
  • Vic: "You got a pen?"
  • Seriously, it's one crisis after another.  This is a truly very grim episode.  I think it's Walt's turn to have a nervous breakdown.
  • The showdown between Walt and Ridges is seriously intense and Ridges seriously almost gets Walt - driving his car off, then attacking on horseback.  A clever set up. 

Episode 3.10  | Ashes to Ashes

Short Synopsis: So many things are mostly resolved.  Miller Beck's killer is finally identified. It's enough to get Henry off but it's clear that the killer is just a pawn and that there was a conspiracy behind Walt's wife's death.  Also Branch gets suspicious and paranoid with a new quarry. 

Short Review: Cady comes into her own in this episode and it is awesome to see. Paired with Walt and Henry's emotional releases and the cliff hanger ending, it would have been a crime to not continue this show.  Grade: A

Random Thoughts:
  • I really adore how Walt handles Branch.  He honors his need for closure while firmly making it clear that he, Branch, still has a lot to answer for.  
  • And seriously, Walt was just in a battle for his life and he just calmly drives himself back into town and logs the body into the morgue.  
  • Walt is adorably protective of Vic here.  Looking at her while he makes it clear Branch will not be coming back to the office any time soon, telegraphing clearly that going after her was the most unforgivable thing Branch did.  Aww....
  • There was some mildly disgusted chatter that of course now that Vic is free there was going to be a big smooch between Walt and her.  Instead he (accidentally) punches her in the face.  That's why this show is so awesome. It also just kind of breaks the slight awkward tension between them.
  • The scene in the Red Pony is one of my favorites  - all the interactions are funny and Vic's rather intimate way of tending to Walt's wound and the fact that Walt doesn't even register it as something weird or awkward is awesome.  Cady on the other hand does a double take.  
  • So how great is it to see Henry and Walt working together in this episode? Super great!  I love them together and they are particularly good here.  
  • Cady's smackdown is epic and I love that she gets to do it.  I've enjoyed her character a lot this season.  
  • Henry's first visit is to Hectors wall:(. Poor Hector.  Henry takes the jar of pleas  - does this mean Henry is going to take up Hector's mantle?
  • Oh...the scene between Walt and his wife.  Really great scene and Robert Taylor knocks it out of the park.  It is a little odd that he doesn't bring his daughter along but we needed this scene as did Walt.  
  • And that ending. Holy Sh*&.  Thank god for Netflix picking up season 4!!
  • Vic and Walt Update:  In this episode, it feels like things have shifted between them.  There's a settled intimacy and comfort between them.  Nothing's happened between them but with Vic free and Walt likely in no doubt of her feelings for him, it's no longer a taboo idea so I think they have relaxed a bit.  I also like to think that one reason for Walt finally beginning the process of letting his wife go, is the prospect of new love.  His decision is more complicated than that for sure but I don't think Walt would truly feel right pursuing something with Vic when his wife still haunts him. 
**************

Despite the slightly grimmer and more emotionally charged tone of this season, I still found it immensely entertaining and I like where the show is going.  Folks that want a straight police procedural probably got a little disgusted, but I like a mix that includes relationship complexities and longer story lines.

Season 4 drops September 10 on Netflix and from what I've seen so far, my extreme excitement has not been diminished.  The overall theme of the season is second chances which fits so well with where all the characters are at, at the end of season 3.  Branch, if he's alive, will be out from under his father's thumb (maybe) and needing a new career, Vic is divorced and ostensibly free of her Philadelphia stalker, Henry has been exonerated and has his freedom back, Cady has gone from unemployed to gaining some confidence as a courtroom lawyer and Walt has ostensibly finally said goodbye to his wife though perhaps not to avenging her.  I love the idea of each of them struggling with how to do the right thing with their second chance. Should be a very interesting season! 

What am I hoping for?  I hope we don't lose Branch and that he gets back to his old self (before David Ridges) a little bit.  I'd like to see Cady continue to be bad ass and perhaps re-kindle some romance with Branch.  I'm interested in the idea of Henry picking up Hector's mantle as vigilante and how that might bring he and Walt into conflict.  I'd like to see more character development for Ferg.  Finally, I'd like to see more air time/storylines for Vic and of course an exploration of a relationship between her and Walt.  Walt has always been the center of the show and I don't have any specific hopes for him except that he really be over his wife's death (fat chance) and that he, at least once, makes a bit of a fool of himself over Vic because she deserves that, having to deal with his stoicism.  More generally, I'd like to see more about the people and life on the reservation. 

Here's the official season 4 trailer which I think illustrates one of my favorite things about the show - the music and how they use it:


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Saturdays in the Garden - Dogs!

OUTSIDE

Another week in the wilds of western Iowa is done and I'm back in the cozy arms of my home for a short break.  It was hot as snot most of the week and last weekend was plagued by Armageddon-like fog but I did stop and enjoy many wonders.


Many folks don't realize that grass has flowers with petals.  This is Indian Grass in bloom.

The prairie is full of these crab spiders in a wide array of colors that blend in with a flower to sit and wait for some poor nectar gatherer to come along. 

Hummingbird Moth!
LIFE

It's Labor Day weekend here in the U.S. and I'm taking a breather from field work to spend a few days at home.  One of the motivators was that this weekend is the Des Moines Kennel Club Dog Show.  Through the blog, I don't know if you have picked up on the fact that I am a serious dog nut.  Besides having two myself, I own at least two picture books on dog breeds and can identify most breeds at 20 paces.  If I am ever called upon to do a survey of dogs inhabiting a particular area, that's going to be a piece of cake:).  (Dang it, now I want cake).  Anyhow, as a young person I made a list of all the dogs breeds I'd like to have as companions at some point in my life and one of the saddest things about getting older is I realize a) I'm running out of time! and b) because my preferences run to the-larger-and-hairier-the-better, my actual physical ability to manage such dogs is quickly diminishing.  Oh, to win the lottery so I can buy my hobby farm today.

So what's on my list?
(this is a rare breed, difficult to find puppies) 
 (NO Cropped Ears!)

This woman says she gathers the undercoat and weaves it!



(of course)
The Glamor Dogs from the show.
My goofy Jasper

My goofy Rudy
And then of course I  always want to have at least one rescue/shelter dog.  My two boys are from a local Golden Retriever rescue organization.  So yeah.  I like dogs.  How about you?  Do you have any groups of a animals you have obsessive interest in/knowledge of?  Do you have any pets? Do you have a favorite breed?  Yes, Heinz 57 counts;)!

Finally, this is happening in my little town right now:
Three blocks of the main street is blocked off and lined with classic cars.  Ah, small town America.

READING, WATCHING and BLOGGING

Watching

I'm not watching much of anything these days, being out in the sticks, BUT I am SO flippin' excited about the 4th season of Longmire being released on Netflix Sept. 10!!  I am also flippin' mad that I will not be anywhere near an internet connection on that date!  I'll probably gabble about this a bit on my season 3 wrap up post tomorrow but in the meantime here's the season 4 trailer!

Reading
A few weeks ago I posted a stack of awesome YA audiobooks I got from the library in preparation for being on the road a ton.  I'm almost done with all those - I only have 1.5 to go! So I went and got another awesome stack:). I am really trying to make some progress on series of which I am in the middle!
I'm finally continuing on with my Harry Potter re-read.  I had stalled for a bit because I couldn't find Goblet of Fire with the other HP audios (in juvenile fiction) at the library and I illogically just assumed it was always checked out.  Come to find out, from Goblet of Fire on up in the series, the books are shelved under YA instead of juvenile fiction.  I had this revelation while reading the first three books, that J.K. was brilliant to kind of mature her books and their content with her characters.  Apparently it's like an established, official thing and I'm a slow revelator:). 

Finished (in the) Last Week (and a half):

    • Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone:   Despite my real misgivings about the number of series I'm in the middle of, I picked up a new one.  It was great but I feel in love with Tara and looking at how this series works I doubt I will ever see her again:(.
    • The Duchess War by Courtney Milan:  This is a historical romance novelist that I've heard great things about.  This is my second book by her and while I totally get all the praise, her books and I aren't really getting along.  
    • Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier:  I actually read the second book in this series first (horrors!) while I was out in the wilds last year so it seemed appropriate to pick up book one this year while out in the wilds. 
    • Doctor Who: The Art of Destruction: This was only a 2.5 hour audio so very quick listen.
    • One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MaClean:  This was another re-read prompted by my recent Sara MacLean post. It held up and maybe got better with a re-read.


    Currently Reading:

    • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: So maybe some day I'll pick this up again?  Until then it will sit here on the currently read and look encouraging.
    • The Founding (The Morland Dynasty #1) by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles: This is the first book in a series that follows a single British family through numerous generations into modern times.  This first book takes place in the early 15th century.  This is such a fascinating idea and I have high hopes but I have to say the characters in this first book are shallow and are doing nothing for me. I made some progress this week in this book!
    • Of Noble Birth by Brenda Novak:  Despite the presence of pirates it is not making me happy mostly because of deficient humor and boring main characters. I also made some progress in this one which I had kind of been avoiding.
    • Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter:  This is a non-fiction ARC addressing work-life balance and feminism.  
    • Abarat by Clive Barker:  Reminding me a lot of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland... which in turn reminded me of Alice in Wonderland.  Fun, strange book.


    On the BLOG LAST WEEK:

    FRIDAY: Sarah MacLean-apalooza | Three Books, Many Thoughts.   I think I have found my favorite historical romance writer!
    SUNDAY: Sixth Longmire post featuring the first 5 episodes of Season 3!
    WEDNESDAY: A Liebster Award post!  Thanks to Rebekah at Wordsmithing and Worldbuilding for tagging me!
    FRIDAY: Review of Ghost Story by Jim Butcher.

    On the BLOG NEXT WEEK:

    SUNDAY: Final Longmire post covering season 1-3.  This will be about the last 5 episodes of season 3 and speculate a little on season 4.
    Beyond that I hope to write and schedule some reviews but not sure what yet. 

    Hope everyone is having a peaceful and fun weekend!




    Friday, September 4, 2015

    REVIEW | Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8058301-ghost-story
    Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
    Publication Year: 2011
    Genre: Urban Fantasy
    Series: Dresden Files #13
    Awards: NA
    Format: Audiobook on CD from Library
    Narrator: John Glover


    I did something I rarely do with books that I KNOW I’m going to read; I delved into some of the reviews for this book on Goodreads before reading it.  I think I was nervous about it – Harry being dead?  How was that going to work?  And a lot of folks really didn’t like it. Thankfully I was not one of those people! I don’t know how much of my liking for the book was in reaction to the more emo and Happenings-of-Import tone of Changes which I wasn’t crazy about.  Ghost Story, even with Harry dead, had more of the action-packed, devil-may-care tone of your usual Dresden book.

    It’s important to know however, that while it returns the series to more business as usual, it is also an immediate continuation of Changes.  It is the middle book in a trilogy of connected books that ends with Cold Days.  It’s like the massive three episode arc that happens in the middle of many tv show seasons.   I tend to love those deep dive mid-season trilogies and my enjoyment of the strategy here is also great.  In Ghost Story, Harry is having to face up to his actions in Changes and all the repercussions: there is a power vacuum with the destruction of the Red Court of vampires which is causing lots of problems, and he is not around to help his friends deal with it.  The book also has some flavor of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, with Harry realizing just how important he was to his friends, to Chicago and to the world.  The more mundane purpose of the story is for Harry to work out who murdered him at the end of Changes – the answer to that mystery is a big “Dun, Dun, Duuuuun” moment. 

    The best thing about this book for me was the exploration of what life is like for the spirits of Chicago - it’s like a whole new world is opened up.  It places limitations on Harry which he is not used to having, including being unable to do magic at least in any way that effects the physical world.  Figuring things out and being creative when the chips are down is one of Harry’s strengths so it’s a blast to watch him work it all out.  I also liked his ghost mentor, Sir Stuart Winchester and the re-appearance of the little medium Mort, who turns out to be stronger and more heroic than he appears.  The pacing is back to normal (I thought it was uneven in Changes) with the usual impossible deadlines and frenzied action that makes me turn the pages (metaphorically speaking since I was listening to it) needing to know how Harry and the gang will save the world this time. 

    The love wasn’t universal of course.  While I liked the overall answer to the question “Who shot Dresden?”, I thought the why of it, particularly what gets a certain heavenly creature involved, was pretty Deus Ex Machina (perhaps appropriate considering the apperance of an angel...).  It felt like it was shoe-horned in there because Harry wouldn’t have taken the actions he did without some prompting.  The book also got pretty repetitive in places.  If I had to listen to Harry think about how sensitive Molly is and how thoughtless it was of him to involve her in the fight at Chichen Itza one more time, I was going to get super annoyed. As it was, I was only mildly annoyed. And since this book is all about regrets, it makes sense.  Finally, while this isn’t particularly a complaint nor even specifically limited to this book, a new foe is introduced, the Fomor, and pretty much nothing whatsoever is done with them in this book nor the two books that follow.  I’m sure they will get their chance to shine later in the series but I get all anxious when characters, plots, or major players are introduced and then they don't go anywhere.

    And the Murphy Files?  Murphy is struggling not just with Harry’s death/disappearance but also with the loss of her job/identity.  Of course no one is the least sympathetic to this, they just talk about how hard she has become.  In addition, our last view of Murphy is her breaking down with grief at Harry’s death and Harry, because he feels helpless, just says oh well, let me make sure everyone else is okay and then I’ll happily pass on from this mortal coil.  I appreciate how mentally and physically strong Murphy is and how Dresden respects her strength and doesn’t coddle her but for a man who had been contemplating a relationship with her, Dresden is awfully blasé about her pain.  He should at least want to comfort her even if he doesn’t think she needs it.  File this under “what the hell is Butcher playing at with these two?” A file that is about to get very thick indeed in the next couple books. 

    Finally, a note about the audio.  This version was narrated by John Glover, not James Marsters who had done all the other books.  Glover is good but Marsters is better and I was happy to see that just this year they’ve released an updated audio with Marsters for continuity’s sake. 

    FINAL VERDICT:  A solid installment with a creative premise that I think was handled really well.  3.5 out of 5 stars.