Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Dresden Files: Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

Welcome back!

Today's subject, the second installment of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series, "Fool Moon"

Released in 2001, this book still contains some references that date the piece (pay phones again).  Here we get our first glimpse of Jim Butcher honing his craft. There are some noticeable improvements to his writing here.  So lets dive in!

We pick up with Harry who, as is common early in his career, is languishing somewhere between broke and homelessness.  Too poor to afford a meal at his favorite spot, we find him dining with an lady seeking arcane guidance on a subject she shouldn't be aware of.  Harry's predicament is one where releasing information could land him in nigh scalding water with the (still vaguely threatening) White Council.  This story takes on a rapid pace immediately after the end of this meeting, and Fool Moon becomes a tangle of sub-plots which intertwine beautifully.

In this book we learn a good bit more about Harry's capabilities and how far into the "grey area" of the laws of magic he is willing to work in.

Fool Moon boasts powerful recurring characters, such as the Chicago mob boss "Gentleman" Johnny Marcone, the always reliable police Lt. Karrin Murphy (go Murph!), and 'The Alphas". Some supporting characters, whom we gradually become acquainted with over the series, get some development as well (pay attention to mob enforcers and the named police officers... they show up in future books).

This book has its tragically heroic moments.  No spoilers on this, but look for the extraordinary actions of an ordinary cop to show you the strength people can muster.  (No I'm not tearing up at all.. leave me alone!)

There is also the beginning of an underlying theme that you pick up on throughout the series.  That dark magic is beginning to rise, and common people are often its victim or tool. Its been years since I read this book the first time (I've read it five time now, and I'm planning on reading it again in the coming year) and to this day, I still wonder where the belts came from...

Take note of the appearance of the Alphas in the series.  They grow and develop just as Dresden does throughout the series.  This reinforces the sensation of time spent getting to know the series and the world, as it leaves one with a sense of years passing before you.  Savor this aspect of The Dresden Files.


My Thoughts: 

Jim Butcher's talent for story telling is undeniable.  Fool Moon serves as our first proof that he continues to hone his craft.  Butcher's writing flows more smoothly in Fool Moon than in Storm Front. His scene transitions have a more natural feel to them.  Character descriptions are more evocative, and the crafting of dialogue is very nicely done.  Jim Butcher really "leveled up" as a writer with Fool Moon.

This book also demonstrates that it is a good idea for your protagonist to lose a fight (sometimes).  Harry Dresden learns a lot from getting beaten up.  So much so that later in the series he gets beaten up less and less.  There is value to the scars Harry earns in Fool Moon, so do check it out.

Recommended For:

Fans of modern fantasy, gumshoe detective stories, and supernatural thrillers.  I also recommend this book for anyone who ever felt out of place at college or otherwise socially alienated.  The Alphas are a great bunch of characters who are easy to empathize with, so I also recommend this book for role-playing gamers of any genre (though their gaming hobby doesn't come out until later on). If you read Storm Front then you owe it to yourself to read Fool Moon.

Not Recommended For: 

People who have experienced recent deaths in their family.  There is a lot of death in this book.  Some of it is graphically described. Police and other first responders who have suffered the recent loss of a co-worker/partner/team mate should wait until they've had a good grieving period before picking this book up.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

The Laundry Files: The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross

Thank you for joining me, now lets get down to it!

For this installment I want to bring to your attention the Laundry Files, a series by Charles Stross, and introduce you to the first book The Atrocity Archives.

One thing you should understand about this book, is that it is actually a pair of works in one novel.  You get the short novel "The Atrocity Archives" and "Concrete Jungle" in this one.  Both works are remarkable on their own merits.  Packaged together in one book, you get great value, and a fantastic entrance into Stross's world where magic is a function of science and great malign intelligences from beyond space-time await the time when they will eat our brains.  For we are crunchy and taste good with ketchup!

The main protagonist throughout the Laundry Files series is one Bob Howard. If you have ever worked in tech support, IT, or in a cubicle of any sort you can sympathize with Bob.  He finds himself working for a secret government agency after "an incident", where he is stuck working on office technical problems and navigating the horror that is civil service.

Bob makes a life changing mistake though, and out of boredom asks to be considered for field work.  Much to his chagrin and surprise, he finds himself doing just that.  Bob's illusions of spy craft are soon shattered and he ends up entangled in quite the mess.  Bob makes for a great character you can quickly become interested in.  Likable, someone who doesn't have everything going for him, work is a pain, really he's like your IT guy at work in a lot of ways 😇!

The Laundry Files have a bit of everything to offer you, spy thriller, Cthulhu inspired horror, humor (actually funny and in appropriate places... Stross's timing is brilliant), work place angst, and an easy read.  Stross also throws in some bits to explain the reality of magic and he does it well.  I won't give to much away here, but trust me on this, it works!  It all starts here with The Atrocity Archives

My thoughts:

If you haven't read the Laundry Files yet, you are doing yourself a HUGE disservice!  Get this book now and savor it.  Stross demonstrates a finely honed skill as an author in this book.  You get a smoothly crafted story that is remarkably well paced, full of interesting moments that build to a beautiful crescendo.

Bob Howard is a remarkable character that will draw you in and grow on you.  You'll become easily familiar with Bob, like a friend at work, and will find that you become attached to this character.  It will bring you to the edge of your seat in some particularly tense scenes, put a smile on your face during those brief moments of respite, and make you roll your eyes and say "Oh, Bob" in moments where the character is entirely real in your imagination.

This book is usually seen as rated between three and four stars on book reviews of various sites.  That is a great disservice to this fantastically crafted tale.  This book is great and should be considered the top of any scale you want to use.

Recommended for:  Lovecraft fans, anyone who liked the movie "Spies like Us", horror role-playing gamers, IT professionals, people who torment IT professionals with alarmingly frequent support calls (yes, you Sidney!), X-Files fans, conspiracy theorists (no, really, you'll have fun with this), and people who appreciate a well crafted story.

Not Recommended for: Fascists, Nazis, real life cult leaders, people with psychiatric disorders, and actual alien intelligences from beyond space-time.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Dresden Files: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Welcome to my new conversation on books I've read and what I have to say about them.

Today's subject, the first installment of Jim Butcher's Dresden files, "Storm Front"

This book was released in 2000 so you may notice references to things that are all but gone now (pay phones being a good example). A lot has changed in the world since 2000 and still Storm Front holds up very well after 17 years in print.

Storm Front introduces the reader to a young Harry Dresden, professional wizard and private investigator.  Harry is introduced as a down on his luck, perpetually broke, private investigator and member of a secretive order of wizards.  This book introduces Harry's relationship to the Chicago police, his difficulties among his fellow wizards, the looming threat of the Chicago mob boss 'Gentleman' Johnny Marcone, and the allure of the reporter Susan Rodriquez.  Oh, and there are also "bad guys" at the root of this tale.

Harry really has his hands full in this book.  Corpses are turning up and certain people believe Harry may have been involved.

Spoiler:  Susan Rodriquez becomes a far more important character than you may expect as the series progresses.


My thoughts:

Jim Butcher displays a lot of talent in this first novel.  There is a raw power to the story while the writing is easily digestible.  This book was enough to make me go look for the rest of the series and now, 9 years after I first read Storm Front, I'm still eagerly awaiting the next book in the Dresden Files series (Peace Talks).  I recommend that new readers go through this series in chronological order, as Butcher does a great job of building on the overall story from book to book.

When you are reading the Dresden Files, you are treated to the evolution of Butcher's skill as a writer.  He has succeeded in honing his craft with each volume in the series.  Throughout the fantastic occurrences in the series, Harry Dresden remains a very easy character to relate to.  Harry is a wonderful character who makes mistakes, and sometimes learns from them.

The magic and mythos of the Dresden Files universe has a logical consistency that manages to keep magic wonderfully fanciful while making sense to the reader. So put your wizard hat on and immerse yourself in the fantastic elements in this series.

I've read this book at least five times, and I'm about to pick it up and read it again.  If you haven't read Dresden Files yet, and you're looking for a new book to sink your teeth into, cast your eyes upon Storm Front.

Recommended for:  Anyone who likes modern fantasy, supernatural detective stories, and a hero who is just trying to do his best in a world that doesn't appreciate him.

Not recommended for:  Well, that's a tough one.  I know precisely two people I wouldn't recommend this book to.  Both have a disdain for supernatural fiction.  So if that applies to you as well, you can skip this book, but you're missing out.

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