Shake Things Up: A Work In Progress by Brad Cotton

Title: A Work In Progress

Author: Brad Cotton

Genre: Literary Fiction

Where I Got It: Free ebook copy in exchange for review

Score: 5 out of 5

So.  On Monday morning my internet stopped working.  Just DIED.  A technician came to fix it, and about three hours later was still flabbergasted as to why it wasn’t working.  He left.  I spent the night without internet (and those who know me know that that’s like  not breathing for twelve hours!).  The technician came back Tuesday, and it was two pm before he finally got the internet working again.  By then I had gone approximately thirty hours without internet, and I was definitely feeling the withdrawal symptoms.  The point of all this is, however, that this period of internetlessness left me with some free time.  During which I read all of A Work In Progress in two or three sittings.

And let me begin by saying: this is a good book.

A Work In Progress, by Brad Cotton, is about a writer named Danny Bayle.  Now, Danny Bayle’s life kind of sucks.  Four years ago he wrote a mediocre novel and hasn’t written much of anything since.  His girlfriend of five years, Carah, has left him and moved to France.  His grandfather, who was like a father to him, has died.  And he’s barely done anything in months but mope, and drink, and complain about his inability to write.

Then, one day, he decides its time to take control of his life, try new thing, meet new people, etc.  He starts a casual relationship with a woman.  Joins a support group for depression.  Makes friends with an artist named Katie.  And even decided to take drum lessons at one point.  Of course, none of this makes his life easier, exactly, especially when Carah starts calling from France out of the blue.  But it certainly makes his life a whole hell of a lot more interesting.

So, what I like about this novel… you know what, let’s start with what I didn’t like:

There are a couple summary exposition passages that feel a tad awkward and unnecessary to me, but this only happens a couple times, and doesn’t really hurt the story at all.  The other thing that bothers me is more of a problem, but still not enough to really hurt it:  I get the feeling that despite the fact that Carah dumped Danny and ran off to France we’re still supposed to like her, or at least sympathize with her to some extent.  One more than one occasion, in fact, Danny comment that the whole mess might have been his fault because he took her for granted.  But you never really get any sense for HOW Danny might have taken her for granted, whether this is a true assessment of their relationship, or why we the readers should have any sympathy for the woman who broke our “hero’s” heart.  We get some hints, and she seems nice enough in their phone conversations that its not completely out of the realm of possibility, but some more concrete evidence from their relationship would have helped me along here.

Now, on to what I liked:

Pretty much everything else.  The characters, all the characters including the many secondary characters, were well-written and well-rounded.  The best secondary characters: Casey – Danny’s best friend; Katie – the 19-year-old artist Danny befriends; and Mrs. Tierney – the owner of the sorta-kinda foster home where Katie lives.  These characters are interesting, fun, and eminently likable.

And then there’s the main character, Danny Bayle.  This is a character that I think many people, especially fellow writers, can relate to.  I know I certainly did.  And that’s not to say that I’m a guy, or that I’ve published a novel (mediocre or otherwise), or that I’ve ever been in a relationship for anything close to five years, or that I’m a drinker or have ever had weed (Danny does a lot in this book, whereas I thankfully skipped that lesson in my high school and college education).  But, I could very easily relate to the writer who is trying so hard to write and not getting anywhere, who is lonely and completely dissatisfied with his life, and who desperately needs to change things, find new outlets, meet new people, and really shake things up.  I feel like that all the damn time.

I think at least one or two things about this character should appeal to most people.

As for the plot, well this is literary fiction, so of course its extremely character-driven.  In fact, it doesn’t feel so much like a plot with clearly defined beginning, middle, and end, as it does a momentary camera focus on a point in Danny’s life when a series of somewhat unrelated events and people all conspire to make Danny the person he was meant to be.  And this is a good thing.  Because real life is not like a well-planned clearly-defined plot.  It is, of course, verisimilitude and not fact, but this book does a very good job of mimicking real life.  It’s one of those stories that makes me want to ask how much of it is based on the author’s life, even though I know that from a craft perspective that’s not the kind of thing you’re supposed to ask.  You’re supposed to take a story on its own merits, not as some kind of extension of the author’s biography. Still, a story that feels this real kind of makes it impossible not to ask.

In other words, folks, this is a very good book, that you should definitely check out.  I really really enjoyed reading it, and I think you will too.

Here’s a link to Brad Cotton’s website, and here’s where you can buy the book on Amazon: A Work In Progress.

Review of Dominant Race by Elisa Nuckle

Title: Dominant Race

Author: Elisa Nuckle

Genre: Fantasy/Scifi

Where I Got It: bought a Kindle copy

Score: 3 out of 5

Dominant Race is a novella by Elisa Nuckle, one of my blog and Twitter buddies and a fellow Houstonian.  It is the first in a series about a race of genetically modified humans who have been spliced with various animals.  Dominant Race focuses on Lilia, a wolf modified who leaves the safety of her family’s cabin hidden in the woods in order to help a modified militia that includes her love interest, Avari.  The modified militia faces enemies on two sides: the normal humans who fear and sometimes oppress the modified, and Sanders – a rogue modified who kills humans and modified alike in his crazed pursuit of war.

What I Liked:

The premise of this novella is intriguing and fun.  Genetic modification is a subject I find absolutely fascinating, and it can usually make for some cool stories and fun characters.  The dystopian setting was also interesting.  The way Elisa took American city names and deconstructed him (like Neyork, for instance), and also made mentions of “old” technologies and customs throughout the story was a nice touch.

The main character, Lilia, was likable and easy to relate to.  She’s feisty, stubborn, and intelligent.  I always like tough female characters, and Lilia fills the role nicely.  There is a point near the end where she behaves in a way that seems out of character to me, even given the extenuating circumstances of the scene, but for the most part she is a consistently-written and enjoyable character.  You’ll definitely be rooting for her.

What I Didn’t Like:

Okay, the basic idea of the plot works well for the most part, but I think it suffers from its length.  I really believe this story needed to be a full length novel rather than a novella.  There is too much going on too quickly, without enough exposition or description, and with too many character names floating around, attached to secondary characters that are sometimes fine and sometimes just don’t have enough description or importance attached to them for me to keep track of everyone.

I think the novella as a whole should definitely be decompressed, as it were, with a little more exposition and description here and there, a bit more space between events for the reader to sort through what’s happened and who’s been introduced and where its going next.  Still, the first two-thirds of the novella are manageable, and were certainly still interesting enough to keep me reading.  However, the last part of the novella, Chapter 14-18 to be exact, were very difficult for me to read.  I had to re-read a few sections several times to make sure I’d understood what had just happened.  And while SOME of that may simply have been my fault for reading too quickly or something, at least some of it could have been helped by slowing down the prose a bit.  Things sometimes jumped from one sentence to the next without enough concrete description.  And the appearance of at least two characters is so sudden and without any kind of foreshadowing that they felt a little too “dues ex machina” (or even non sequitur) for my taste.

As for the love sub-plot: it was… okay.  There was some effort to develop the relationship between Lilia and Avari in a natural way, rather than having them fall into instant lust.  But I don’t feel like I know enough about Avari and why Lilia would love him, for it to completely work for me.  He’s also out of the picture for a good chunk of the story, and their reunion is just a touch too easy to be entirely believable.  But, again, I think much of this is a problem of the length.

I know the “What I Don’t Like “ section is a quite a bit longer than the “What I Like” section is, but I really do think most of the problems with this story could have been solved by simply making it longer and more detailed.  With more time/space to develop the characters and relationships, to bring in more description and more transition from one plot element to the next, the interesting premise could have been a much stronger story.  However, I think the intriguing premise and the likable main character are able carry a lot of the weight of the problems.  Dominant Race is an admirable first effort, and the world-building is interesting enough that I will be back to read the next installment in the series.  I’m really looking forward to watching Elisa Nuckle grow.

Please check out Elisa Nuckles’ blog, and the page for Dominant Race, with all the options for buying.

And the Dark Knight Rises Again

I would like to begin by saying that the violence in Aurora, Colorado is a horrible shock and tragedy, and my thoughts are with all the victims and their families.  I saw the news this morning, and I have trouble comprehending how such a thing can happen.  I just don’t understand how a person can do such a thing.  I understand that some people are nervous about the possibilities of a copy-cat, but some of the comments from people who think that Warner Bros. should pull Dark Knight Rises from theatres just do not make sense to me.  You can blame the movie or the movie industry for the actions of a madman (and this man clearly has mental issues), and it would be unreasonable to penalize the movie or the industry because of this.

My brother and I had made plans to go see Dark Knight Rises today, and even after we heard the news about the shooting, we decided to go anyway.  We went to an early afternoon IMAX showing, and it was still a sold-out show.

I’m afraid I won’t actually be able to say much, because I’m TERRIFIED of accidentally revealing too much — and this is NOT a movie that should be ruined for anyone.  So I’m just going to say a few vague words and assure you all that it is DEFINITELY DEFINITELY worth seeing.

Let me start with the obvious: I love Batman, I love Christian Bale, and I love Christopher Nolan movies.  I was BLOWN AWAY by both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  And while I had been watching the casting for this third movie with some trepidation (it seemed like Nolan was casting too many big names, which hinted to me that he might have bitten off more than he could chew), I was still extremely excited to see this movie.  I had some pretty high expectations.  This movie met (and in some cases exceeded) all of them.

As always, Christian Bale was brilliant.  I was also seriously impressed by Anne Hathaway as Catwoman/Selena Kyle.  Of course, Tom Hardy is also amazing, and he was fantastically threatening as Bane.  And Joseph Gordon-Levitt was wonderful as Blake as well.  I especially really liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, in fact.  He’s a younger cop, working with Gordon, and he’s just really REALLY likable.

Visually, this movie was STUNNING.  I saw it in IMAX, and the cityscapes: OMG! Seriously. AMAZING.  Also, one of the complaints I’ve had about Nolan in the past is that his fight scenes are often extremely difficult to follow.  He uses ultra-close close-ups so that everything is blurry and you’re too close to the body to see who’s hitting who, etc.  He seems to have learned his lesson in this movie, and the fight scenes were MUCH more clear and easy to follow.  They were also BRUTAL.  The fight scenes between Batman and Bane: oh WOW.  INTENSE.

And, of course, the writing was fantastic.  I have a few small complaints, but I don’t want to get into them because they would all reveal too much, and they were small enough not to injure the movie much.

A couple other complaints I have: another problem that seems to be common with Nolan is some imbalances with the sound.  There are a number of places in the movie were the score drowns out the dialogue so you really cannot tell what the people are saying.  Also, despite Nolan having gone back in to fix things after initial complaints, there are a few points where it is difficult to understand what Bane is saying through the mask.

Also, there was not NEARLY enough Michael Caine as Alfred.  I won’t get into why, but he just didn’t get as much screen time as he deserved.  I also have some detail-oriented issues with a few plot devices, especially at the end.  One thing about Nolan: he is a fantastic, brilliant “BIG ideas” man, but he sometimes trips up on the details.  That is obvious in a few places in this movie.

And I haven’t quite decided how I feel about the ending.

Despite these small complaints (and they really are only small complaints) this was an absolutely brilliant movie.  Intelligent, intense, visually gorgeous, with some great writing, and just about perfect casting/acting.  It is a fitting end to this particular Batman era, and definitely does justice to the hopes and expectations raised by The Dark Knight, and you should all go see it as soon as possible.

As for me: I’ll probably be seeing again soon.  It’s definitely a more-than-once kind of movie.  That’s for damn sure.

Side note: I had a pretty cool experience on Thursday night (which is why I didn’t go to a midnight release showing of Dark Knight Rises in the first place), and hopefully I’ll be able to write it all down on sunday.  ‘Cause it was pretty damn cool.

This Is Your Brain on Awesome

Title: This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

Author: Daniel Levitin

Genre: Non-Fiction, Popular Science

Where I Got It: Bought it

Score: 6! out of 5

WARNING: Gratuitous use of ALL CAPS and cursing, lots of cursing.  Sorry, I try not to curse on this blog too much, but when I get really excitable I drop the F-Bomb. A LOT.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. 

I don’t read non-fiction books very often.  Or rather, I don’t voluntarily read non-fiction books that are required for my graduate classes very often.  I used to in high school and early in my college career, but when you’re in graduate school and most of what you read is heavy-theory, or historical criticism, or some such thing, you really just want to read fun popular fiction on your off-time.  And that’s mostly what I do.  I read fantasy, scifi, YA, and so forth.  But I’ve been meaning to get back into reading science books (reminder: I used to be a Physics major and I MISS my science classes), and I’ve actually had this book sitting on a shelf for three years now, so I figured I’d finally get around to reading it.

I bought it way back then because a) it was a science book and I’m always like: Yay, science! and b) because it was about music, and my life RUNS on music.  Seriously.  So, I was pretty certain I was going to love this book once I got around to it.

But OH. MY. GOD.  I cannot tell you how awesome this book is! It BLEW MY MIND!

Okay, okay, before I devolve totally into gratuitous cap letters, here’s what This Is Your Brain On Music is about:  Daniel Levitin started out as a member of a mediocre rock band.  But when he was in the studio recording with his band, he discovered he was actually a very good music engineer/producer, and eventually that’s what he became.  And he worked with some VERY BIG names in the business, including (just as an example): The Who.  Yeah. THE FUCKING WHO.  (Can I have this man’s life?)  Well, eventually, Daniel Levitin got more and more interested in exactly how the brain processes music, where music comes from, why it’s so universally important, etc.  And he went back to college and GOT A PHD IN NEUROSCIENCE with a specialization in music cognition.  Because apparently he is just that fucking awesome.  He then went on to work with some VERY BIG NAMES in neuroscience, including, just for the sake of name dropping: OLIVER SACKS.  (If you’re into science, you’ll realize how BIG that name is – and OMG can I please have this man’s life?)  AND THEN he started his own fucking lab to study music and the brain.

And after all that was done, HE WROTE A FUCKING BOOK ABOUT IT ALL.  And voila.  Here we are.

Of course, it’s difficult to give reviews of non-fiction books.  There are no plots and not often many characters, exactly.  This book goes through the basic units of what turns sound into music.  It talks about how the brain processes and understands music, why we couldn’t have music without the memory systems are brains are built with, why we get earworms – those songs that stick in your head forever, how music may have evolved from our caveman days, why it takes aprox. 10,000 hours of practice to become an “expert” at anything, and why there might not be any such thing as “natural talent” after… just to name a few topics.  He covers neurobiology, neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, empirical philosophy, Gestalt psychology, memory theory, categorization theory, neurochemistry, and exemplar theory in relation to music theory and history.  All in about 300 pages.

And he does all of this with great metaphors to explain the more complicated and less intuitive science concepts, plenty of examples for real music that most people should recognize, a wonderfully light, humorous writing style, and an enormous love and respect for music that shines through every single word.

I cannot express how much I LOVE this book.  I have been raving about it to anyone who listen.  Most of my friends.  My mother.  My brother.  I have told practically everyone I know that THEY NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.  And I’m telling you all now too.  YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.  If you like science.  If you like music.  If you just like GOOD non-fiction.  YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.

IT WILL BLOW YOUR FUCKING MIND.

You will probably come out the other side wanting to be a neuroscientist.  Or a musician.  Or both.  If you ever played an instrument and let it fall by the wayside, I guarantee you this book will make you at least WANT to start practicing again.  It might actually get you ACTUALLY PRACTICING AGAIN.  You will have a new appreciation for not only the amount of work it takes to play music, but also the kind of brain power and evolutionary luck it takes JUST TO LISTEN TO MUSIC.  You will be amazed by how many different parts of the brain have to be in operating condition just to understand what you’re listening to.  And HOW AMAZING IT IS THAT WE CAN REMEMBER ALMOST EVERY SONG WE HERE MORE THAN ONCE.  Apparently babies ACTUALLY REMEMBER THE SONGS THEY HEAR IN THE WOMB!!!!  FUCK YEAH!

BUY THIS BOOK.  Go to Amazon right now.  Here.  Here’s the link: This Is Your Brain On Music.

AND ENJOY THE MIND-BLOWING EXPERIENCE.

Come see me when you’re done and just try to tell me it wasn’t worth every fucking penny.  I DARE YOU.

They Finally Got It Right: A Review of The Amazing Spider Man

On Sunday I went to see The Amazing Spider Man, the newest reboot of the Spider Man franchise.  When I first heard that Marvel was once again trying to make a Spider Man movie I was pretty skeptical about it.  But when I saw the first full trailer I got pretty excited, and I had pretty high hopes going into it. And, for the most part, I’d say this movie met them.  They’ve finally done Spider Man RIGHT.

The Amazing Spider Man (directed by Marc Web) once again revisits Spider Man’s origin story, this time paying a bit more attention to the original comics than the Tobey Maguire movies did.  I assume by now that most people (if not everyone) knows what the basic origin story is, right?  I don’t want to give too much away, but I think it’s safe to talk about the basics: Peter Parker’s parents disappear one night when he’s young, leaving him in the care of his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and never returning.  It’s presumed they are dead, though it is never confirmed.  Peter Parker, now a teenager in high school, is a bit of a geek/outcast, with more smarts than he really knows what to do with, and who has a crush on beautiful, popular Gwen Stacey.  Then, in a series of events that I’ll let you watch (the way they did in this movie was actually pretty funny), Peter is bitten by a genetically-altered spider, and everything gets crazy for him from there.

One of the main things this version did right was the simple fact of Gwen Stacey’s presence in the movie.  Most non-comics fans are only really familiar with Mary-Jane as Peter’s love interest, but in the comics Gwen Stacey is around first and for a long time before Mary-Jane shows up.  Mary-Jane only because the love interest as Gwen has died – no, I’m not giving away anything, I swear: Gwen does not die in the movie, and I have NO IDEA how or even IF the movies will deal with that plot line from the comics.  In any case, I was so happy Gwen was in this movie.  I’ve always found Mary-Jane to be a fairly annoying character, actually, and I’ve always liked Gwen much MUCH more.  And, of course, Emma Stone did a superb job portraying her: she’s whip-smart, spunky, and compassionate.

Then, of course, there is the casting choice for Peter/Spider Man.  Andrew Garfield was the PERFECT choice.  He looks right – he’s got the long, thin, wiry look to him that just works for Spider Man.  He gave the character so much of the sarcasm and feistiness that was missing in the Tobey Maguire versions, and while he has a few moments of angst, he’s not whiny like Tobey Maguire’s version was.  He really just did a fantastic job with the character. Also, the suit looks AWESOME.

And the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone! I’ve been reading comments about it on various pre-release comments and reviews for a while, and they are not exaggerated.  The chemistry was wonderfully palpable.  It’s easy to believe that these two actors ended up dating in real life.  They just look RIGHT together.

The one complaint I’ve heard is that while the scenes between Peter and Gwen are well done: well-written, well-acted, etc, the constant back and forth between the slower relationship scenes and the more action-y plot-important scenes slows the pace down too much in the movie.  I haven’t decided yet exactly how I feel about it.  For the most part I disagree.  As I was watching it, I didn’t feel that the pace suffered much, if at all.  However, when I think about it, I can still see how someone might make that argument.  I myself was fine with the way they did it: the movie is, to me at least, more about the relationships, and about Peter’s personal growth, and the focus doesn’t necessary NEED to stay exclusively on the action/adventure stuff.  But if you go into really wanting it to be a high-energy action film (like Avengers, perhaps) you will be just a touch disappointed by the slower pace.

That is, however, the ONLY criticism I think anyone can really make about the movie.

The plot, despite the relationship stuff, is still important and tense.  And I really like the villain, Curt Connors (aka, Lizard).  What I liked is that he’s not REALLY a villain.  I mean, he’s not evil.  He’s sympathetic, and we as an audience get to watch his slow slide into bad decisions and madness.  He feels very human and flawed and desperate, rather than some kind of cliché, over-the-top, one-dimensional comic book villain.  And I really appreciated that.

And then, of course, the cinematography (by John Schwartzmann) was wonderful.  Absolutely GORGEOUS to watch.  Rich color, detailed settings – with some really great shots of New York City, and some great angles and panning shots too.  I’ve read a criticism about the musical score (by James Horner, of course) somewhere (I can’t remember where now) but I don’t really agree.  I thought the score had great power and emotion, some dark lows and some bright highs, and a big epic feeling.

All in all, The Amazing Spider Man was a fantastic, wonderfully enjoyable movie, and I highly recommend it to anyone who looks comic book movies, or just a good adventure film.

Now, for a look at some of the science behind the movie, please check out my friend Andrew Kincaid’s discussion: “Comic Book Science Is Right For Once (Sort Of) – A Qausi-Review of The Amazing Spider Man.”

Family Troubles in Disney/Pixar’s Brave

So, I saw Disney/Pixar’s Brave on Sunday.  And let me just say: it was gorgeous!  Visually it was absolutely stunning, and every other review I’ve read so far agrees on that point at the very least.  The scene design, the colors, the lighting, the character design – all rich and detailed and full of depth and emotion.  A feast for the eyes.  Art in motion.  Seriously.  It’s obvious that the animators took a lot of time to study Scotland’s landscapes, fell in love with it, and decided to share that love with the world (of course, who doesn’t fall in love with Scotland’s landscapes?)

Now, as for the rest of it.  I’ve read a few reviews that have been absolutely and completely glowing, but I think most people seem to agree with my general impression: while Brave was definitely enjoyable, and I liked it, the storytelling was simply not up to par with Pixar’s usual work.

The previews give you the basic premise: Princess Merida, with her boisterous, somewhat goofy father, the king, and her strict, prim and proper mother, the queen, is supposed to choose a first-born son from one of the other clans to marry.  But Merida is head-strong and boisterous like her father, enjoys the unladylike pursuits of horseback riding and archery, and has no intention of getting married any time soon.  So she goes to a witch (always a bad idea) to get a spell that will “change her fate.”  As always in these things, she doesn’t quite get what she’d intended and things go downhill from there.

What I liked about this movie was that it was family-centered.  The drama and conflict is between a headstrong daughter and her strict mother; it is about a family that is tearing itself apart because the mother believes in upholding tradition and the daughter wants to break away and “make her own fate.”  There is no prince in this story, there is no romance sub-plot and there isn’t even really a “real villain.”  It’s all about the family.  And I liked that.

I also really liked Merida.  She’s feisty and strong and stubborn and smart.  And, of course, she’s flawed and makes some less-than-stellar choices.  However, I don’t think the writers give her enough to do, quite frankly.  While I liked the idea of a conflict centered on the family, there just wasn’t enough going on in this movie.  And I think the mother, Queen Elinor, kind of steals the show.  In a lot of ways she’s as much the main character as Merida is.

Some people have complained about the way the father, King Fergus, is portrayed.  He is a bit goofy, a bit hapless, and it is clear very quickly that Queen Elinor is the one in charge of that particular household.  And some people have not been happy about that, complaining that this portrayal makes the father an idiot, which is an insult to fathers (I would imagine that complaint mainly comes from men).  But here’s the thing: I don’t think they make King Fergus an idiot.  He’s big and loud and friendly.  He’s a warrior who’s more comfortable on the battlefield or hunting, rather than playing diplomat or administrator.  Queen Elinor just happens to be the one who’s better at the social niceties, the administrative duties and the public speaking.  That doesn’t make Fergus an idiot.  And, let’s be frank, it is very common for the father to be the fun-loving, I-don’t-want-to-discipline-the-children type, and for the mother to be the one in charge of keeping the family under control.

All that being said, the plot was a bit formulaic.  A princess that refuses to choose a husband, making a wish that backfires, etc… it’s all be done before.  Of course, everything’s been done before, and there’s nothing wrong with taking an old premise and building something new on top of it, but I don’t think Pixar did a particularly good job of building something new on top of it this time around.

While I enjoyed the movie, and it was certainly a pleasure to look at, it was not particularly riveting, or emotionally impactful, or even particularly new.  And it certainly won’t be replacing any of my current favorites.  In terms of family-centered drama, it comes nowhere close to either Finding Nemo or The Incredibles (my two favorite Pixar movies).  And in terms of feisty female leads, or humor, it can’t even touch Mulan or Tangled.

So, in recap: Brave was fun, it was beautiful to look at, I enjoyed it, and I definitely recommend it if you like Disney/Pixar movies, but don’t expect it to blast any earlier Disney/Pixar movies out of the water.

Wizards and Wolves: Review of Fool Moon, Dresden Files Book #2

Title: Fool Moon (Dresden Files Book #2)

Author: Jim Butcher

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Detective

Where I Got It: Borrowed from my mother

Score: 5 out of 5

So, my mother’s been reading The Dresden Files for a few years (though she’s a few books behind now).  Back in 2007, when the tv show came out on Scifi Channel, I watched it, though I hadn’t read the books, and I really liked it.  I know some fans of the books don’t much like the tv show, but I really enjoyed it.  I like Paul Blackthorne, the stories were fun, and I was sad when it wasn’t renewed for a second season.  Still, I knew I needed to read the books eventually, and last winter break I FINALLY got around to reading the first book (which I did not write a review for, sorry).  Though I can tell you this, I like almost everything about the book better than the show (especially Karrin Murphy – I have no idea why they changed her so much in the tv show), EXCEPT for Bob.  I miss Bob from the tv show. *sigh*

Anyway, I finished book 2 almost two weeks ago (I know, I know, it took me long enough to get around to the review), and I thought I’d share my thoughts on it, though it is far from a new book for most everyone else.

For those who aren’t familiar, The Dresden Files series is about Harry Dresden, a real-life wizard who lives in Chicago and works as a private investigator of a sort.  He will find missing people and things, take care of hauntings, etc… but no, he will NOT do love potions.  Of course, most people think he’s a crackpot, but Detective Karrin Murphy of Police Special Investigations believes him just enough to often ask for his help on cases that just don’t make conventional sense.  There is also the problem of the White Council, a ruling body of wizards with very strict rules about how wizards should behave – who don’t like Harry much.  There’s way more, of course, but I won’t go into now.

So, we come to book 2, Fool Moon, which finds Harry helping Karrin to investigate a series of extremely vicious murders that he suspects may be the work of werewolves, while also trying to keep ahead of the FBI, who have come to take over the case, don’t trust Karrin because of her past dealings with Harry, and don’t like Harry much at all.  Things get extra complicated in this book, as Karrin and the rest of the police begin to suspect Harry might be behind the murders, at least three different people want Harry dead, and he realizes that there are at least FOUR different kinds of werewolves involved.

What I Liked:

This book is so fast-paced its just ridiculous! I mean, my God, good luck catching your breath on this one! (I’ve just started reading book #3, Grave Peril, and that one looks to be the same way.)  I’ve mainly been reading YA so far this summer, this reading a more mature, darker, more fast-paced urban fantasy has been a joy.  I love how smart and dark this series is as a whole.  Butcher balances the fantasy elements and the detective story elements very well – because The Dresden Files ARE as much detective story as they are fantasy, and it’s obvious that Jim Butcher has a great love for both (and you all should know by now that I love both as well).

This books throws a lot of information at you very quickly, and runs through some pretty intense action scenes very quickly as well, and respects the readers enough to assume you’re going to keep up without having to slow down too much or over explain (though I do actually think there are one or two points where Butcher does over-explain, they are few and not too intrusive).

I did find in the first book of The Dresden Files, Storm Front, that it was obviously a first book.  Not to say that Storm Front isn’t a good book, because it is, but it was still obviously a freshman effort, so to speak.  I also had to take some time to get used to the first-person narration.  While first-person is common in some detective novels, it’s not so common anymore in fantasy, so that threw me off in the first book.  However, it is obvious that Butcher’s writing is improving steadily as he dives into Book 2, and I was more prepared for the first-person narration this time around.  I suspect each book will be just a bit better than the last.

Of course, I adore the main character, Harry Dresden.  While the plot lines are exciting and fun, and all the magic trappings are interesting and well thought-out, the real appeal, the only real reason people continue to read these books, is because of Harry Dresden.  He is a fantastic character: intelligent, gritty, sarcastic, chivalrous, very self-aware.  He’s self-deprecating, but he also has at least a basic idea of his own worth and skills.  He’s often scared, but brave enough to work past it.  He’s powerful, but not so powerful that everything comes to easily for him.  He’s endearing and sweet, and a hilarious bungler with women.  He’s honorable to a fault, despite himself.  And all the smart-ass remarks he either says or thinks, are just plain funny.

But,  of course, the plot – fast-paced, complicated, filled with dark motives and crazy-strong magic – was awesome too, but it’s hard to talk about without giving too much away, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

What I Didn’t Like:

Actually, I can’t think of much.  Again, there are a couple points when I think the narration falls into over-explanation, but that only happens a couple times.  And I do think the “wrap-up” chapter at the end is a bit too fast and cut-and-dry and sort of like reading the summarized conclusions of a science paper (okay, that’s a bit mean, but you get my drift).  But other than that, this book was pretty damn fantastic.

I have no doubt that many of you are already on board the Dresden Files bandwagon – I was a bit late to this particular party.  But still, if you haven’t read any of these books yet, I definitely recommend them. They are an absolute BLAST.  Here’s the Goodreads page; and here’s the Amazon page. Have at it!

As I mentioned, I have started reading Book #3 now, but I’m reading 3 books at once right now, and I’m also going on a trip at the end of the week, so it might be awhile before I finish it.  I’ll post a review of it whenever I do, though, I promise.

You can expect a review of Disney’s Brave tomorrow or Wednesday.  Til then, Bye!